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Review: Threat, forgiveness and the search for truth in Jam, Finborough Theatre

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Harry Melling and Jasmine Hyde in Jam, Finborough Theatre, photo Mathew Foster

The synopsis of this debut full length play by Matt Parvin reminded me a teeny bit of Blackbird - a confrontation between two adults about an incident that happened when one of them was still a child. In Jam, Bella Saroush (Jasmine Hyde) is a teacher who's got her life back on track - new job, new school, after an incident in a classroom ten years earlier.

That incident involved pupil Kane McCarthy (Harry Melling) whom she finds back in her classroom one evening with a baseball bat in his backpack claiming to seek forgiveness. It isn't just a case of whether Kane is to be believed but also whether the truth of what happened lies in what they both remember.

Over one hour and forty minutes the two verbally spar, teasing the audience with versions of their truth. Harry Melling's Kane has an unpredictability in the way he moves, as well as in his tone and dialogue; it makes him feel dangerous at times and yet he also portrays a vulnerability and hints of remorse that keep you guessing. There are clues in the briefest looks and gestures.

Jasmine Hyde's Miss Saroush is a battle between scepticism, trust and anger. Is her compassion wrapped up in guilt or a genuine sensitivity that ultimately makes her vulnerable and, even after 10 years, easily played?

Kane and Miss Saroush's is a game of own truths or daring to admit the truth, as an audience you have to weed out which is which. Jasmine Hyde and Harry Melling superbly amplify the tension, ambiguity and flaws of their characters and it makes for compelling viewing. I'm giving it four stars and it's at the Finborough Theatre in Earls Court until June 17.

 


Common thoughts (the play not just general ramblings) - now with a post press night PS

1280x720_ntgds_ak_common_rollout11_0-1OK so given my dilemma, which I wrote about this morning, and the response I've had, I decided to put some thoughts down about Common at the National Theatre. If you haven't read my previous post I'll preface all this by saying it was third preview I saw and the fourth preview was cancelled to work on the production, so what you subsequently see, if you are are seeing it, might be quite different.

First the synopsis. It's a new play by DC Moore set in the 18th century during the time of enclosure. Mary (the always wonderful Anne-Marie Duff) is returning from London to the place she grew up. She's done well for herself in London using wit, charm and guile, elevating herself from poor country girl to a woman of apparent means and fine clothes. She isn't immediately recognised and isn't exactly welcome either.

She's a potty-mouthed protagonist who tells the audience up front not to believe anything she says. So her return may be to rekindle an old love, it may be to get revenge on the man who broke up that relationship, it may be to help galvanise the locals to resist enclosure and upset the local land owner or it may be just to wreak a bit of havoc because she can.

And this is where the problems start. The play is a sort of love/revenge/history with explorations of Christianity vs paganism, witchcraft, industrialisation, rural economics and sociology but it doesn't properly nail any of these things partly because the central plot line isn't always coherent enough from which to hang the themes.

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Common, the cancelled preview and the blogger's dilemma

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 07.48.35I don't think I've been in this situation before. I saw the third preview performance of Common, a new play, at the National Theatre on Thursday and despite great performances and production it still wasn't good. There were clusters of empty seats after the interval and it had been similar the previous night. I'd contemplated leaving myself - so did @PolyG and she's got far greater resolve that me.  That isn't the situation though. The situation is I subsequently heard that Friday night's performance was cancelled to allow more time to work on the production.

First or early previews can been cancelled when productions aren't quite ready for a paying audience but to cancel a preview after a few performances is more curious and unusual.

So do I write about a play I saw that is likely to have had more than a few tweaks made to it - it had already lost 10-15 minutes off it's official running time the night we saw it. I've had arguments in the past about reviewing previews and my stance has always been that if I've paid for a ticket, then I can express my thoughts and opinions about what I've seen and experienced, whether that is on social media or this blog. I've seen enough theatre to gauge where things might naturally improve and tighten up with a few more performances.

Occasionally, there is something wrong with the play itself that no amount of previews are going to solve and if the preview of Common hadn't been cancelled I'd put it in that camp. Will one preview performance off be enough to sort it out? Perhaps. However, there is part of me that wants a record of what I saw, that is, after all, the primary reason for writing my blog. That's the dilemma.

***

PS edit: Given the response I've had since writing this, I decided to commit my thoughts to my blog.

 


That was May in London theatre-land - casting, transfers, an anniversary and another bumper crop of thesp spots

600Gloria_FINAL_landscapeSmall* Stan fav Colin Morgan has been cast with Game of Thrones’ Ellie Kendrick in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre which just happens to be my newest favourite playwright. So lots of excitement for that. Gloria will also be a 10 year theatre anniversary for me and Colin. I first saw him (and mentally tipped him as one to watch) when he played the lead in Vernon God Little at the Young Vic in 2007.

* Keeping up the Game of Thrones thesp count in London’s theatre land is Natalie Dormer who’s been cast with David Oakes in Venus in Furs at Theatre Royal Haymarket from October.

* Colm Meaney joins Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Apollo Theatre which opens in July.

* Arthur Darvill of Broadchurch fame has been cast in Hir at Bush Theatre which opens on June 15.

* James Graham (This House) has a new political comedy, Labour of Love, coming to the Noel Coward Theatre in September starring Martin Freeman and Sarah Lancashire.

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Review: An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre or this is why I go to the theatre

An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other RichardThe first thing I have to say is 'thanks' to @mildlybitter. I'd not heard of An Octoroon or Branden Jacob-Jenkins but she recommended his play which is having its European premiere at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond and I'm so glad she did.

Jacob-Jenkins has taken Dion Boucicault's 1850s play but made it a play within a play by putting both himself, played by Ken Nwosu, and Boucicault (Kevin Trainor) into the story. But more than that. They talk directly to the audience, argue with each other and also play several of the characters in the original play. It's brilliantly Brechtian, meta and, with a Bre'r-rabbit running around, surreal but I'll come on to all that.

In Boucicault's The Octoroon George (Nwosu) returns home to Louisiana from Paris to find Terrabonne, the plantation he has inherited, is about to be repossessed. Local heiress Dora (Celeste Dodwell) fancies him and a marriage to her could secure the plantation - and the slaves it keeps. But George has fallen for Zoe (Lola Evans) the illegitimate daughter of his uncle from his relationship with a slave who has been brought up as part of the family.

The villain of the piece is wealthy Jacob M'Closky (also played by Nwosu) who wants Zoe for himself despite her having spurned his advances. M'Closky intercepts a cheque which could save Terrabonne and also discovers something about Zoe's legal status which he decides to use to his advantage.

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Review: Chummy, White Bear Theatre - the thriller that doesn't quite thrill.

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Chummy, White Bear. Photo: Headshot Toby

A man in black jeans, black scarf and black hood stalks the darker edges and corners of the stage with just the briefest glimpses of his face. This is Chummy (Calum Speed) a soon to be murderer who calls ex police detective Jackie Straker (Megan Pemberton) asking her to stop him. Straker has her own problems, not least a gin crutch, but Chummy quickly becomes her obsession and curse, threatening her own mental stability.

The play is set primarily in a dingy office from where Straker tries to run a private detective business. The rear wall is a series of blinds which lift to reveal silhouettes - Chummy creepily appears or a potential victim is seen out enjoying herself. It is a clever way of staging what is otherwise a fairly static play - its central plot device is two people talking over the phone after all. And that is part of the problem. The conversation between Chummy and Straker and their subsequent monologues need to be insightful and punchy but the dialogue at times feels odd and weighed down with simile. As a result the plot feels laboured and I'm not sure I learned much more about the mind of a murderer - or the mind of someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

John Foster's play has all the makings of a great psychological thriller and it has its tense moments  - ironically often when there is physical interaction between the characters - but it never quite fulfils its potential. The cast do their best with the script but I couldn't help thinking whether it might work better as a shorter radio play - the running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with an interval.

It's at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington until 10 June and I'm giving it three stars.


Review: Family fun, friction and fear in Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman, Royal Court

FERRYMAN_Feb17_RoyalCourt_2500x1000-900x600Jez Butterworth's last play, The River, I described as the 'difficult second album' after the stellar success of Jerusalem - obviously it wasn't his second play but you know what I was getting at. I also, with an inadvertent sense of premonition described it as 'palate cleanser before the next big course'. The Ferryman is certainly that big course and not just because it's 3 hours and 15 minutes long and has a cast of 22 (including a baby) but because it is a delicious feast of a play.

The Carney family live on a farm, it's summer and they are about to get the harvest in. It's a happy time, a time of celebration where everyone comes together, working hard during the day, revelling in the evenings. It is a time of traditions that has birthed happy memories for the three generations of the family. But this is 1981 Northern Ireland, hunger strikers are dying in the Maze and the Good Friday agreement is still 17 years away. The spectre of The Troubles looms large and not just in the memories of past events. 

Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) is head of the family and father of seven children with his sickly wife Mary (Genevieve O'Reilly). Quinn's sister in law Caitlin (Laura Donnelly) and son Oisin (Rob Malone) also live at the farm as does his Aunt Patricia (Dearbhla Molloy), a fervent Nationalist, his gentle, story-telling Uncle Patrick (Des McAleer) and dementia-riddled Aunt Maggie Far Away (Brid Brennan) who has brief moments of lucid recollection described by the family as 'visits'.

What Jez Butterworth has written is a piece rich in personality, humour, passion, tension, politics and history and director Sam Mendes has taken a brilliant script and cast and turned it into a superb  tragi-comedy thriller.

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Review: While We're Here, Bush Theatre Studio

Tessa Peake-Jones and Andrew French in While We're Here at thenew Bush Studio. Credit Mark Douet
Tessa Peake-Jones and Andrew French in While We're Here at thenew Bush Studio. Photo: Mark Douet

Carol (Tessa Peake-Jones) is making up the sofa in her Havant home for Eddie (Andrew French) to sleep on. A chance meeting has thrown the former lovers together; they've not seen each other for 20 years and he's got no where to stay. She's happy to help, happy to have the company as her daughter has moved out. Eddie babbles with nerves and Carol is awkwardly sweet, something has been kindled.

There is a lot of humour in their chit chat as they share their views on TV, the local area and news stories but that chat is pregnant with their own philosophy, how they attempt to rationalise and organise their lives to get through. As the two get re-acquainted we learn of Eddie's struggles with mental health and Carol's loneliness and sense of regret.

At times they are on the same page, leaping on those moments of understanding while at others they are worlds apart. Both have built their own safety nets, Eddie keeps moving while Carol stays still making few changes. Eddie returning to her life ignites a spark that might break her out of the shell, seduced as she is by the potential rekindling of their romance. Eddie, however, is driven by a bleakly fatalistic outlook, believing happiness is transitory and consequently fearful of what he sees as the inevitable end.

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Review: Finding and keeping a roof over your head in Home Truths (cycle one), Bunker Theatre

HOME TRUTHS  RUNS AT THE BUNKER THEATRE 17 APRIL TO  13 MAY (1).Under the sub-heading 'An Incomplete History of Housing Told in Nine Plays' Cardboard Citizen are performing three cycles of three short plays exploring...housing. Playwrights including E V Crowe and Anders Lustgarten have contributed and stories told range in setting from the 1800s right up to present day. They are interspersed with snippets of historical footage and quotes which are allocated to the actors via a 'director'.

Cycle one kicks off with Sonali Bhattacharyya's Slummers. It's the story of 16-year old Polly and her family who make a living in late 18th Century London as milliners, selling their wares on the streets. They've already been displaced once to make way for a new road and are living in  'Old Nichol' - the overcrowded, unsanitary and dangerous slums in Shoreditch - when they are approached by a representative of Peabody as being suitable tenants for their new estate. However, six months into their new life and dwelling, they are threatened with eviction.

The piece examines the notion of 'deserving poor' versus 'undeserving poor' - a theme that echoes through the cycle - 'deserving' in this instance seems to mean willing not only to follow the rules but not to question or challenge those that provide.

Bhattacharyya's play aptly exposes the class tension and the powerful strings attached to assistance through the domestic triangle of Polly who wants the benefits of the new home, her mother who wants the benefits of a more just society and the Peabody volunteer who believes what she is doing is right.

Next up was 1970s set The Ruff Tuff Cream Puff Estate Agency by Heathcote Williams with Sarah Woods about an 'estate agency' set up for homeless people. The group monitor empty properties for squatting and broadcast their availability on pirate radio while themselves playing a cat and mouse game with the authorities and their own landlord.

It is fun and lively piece populated with eccentric, clever and caring people but with a serious underbelly - tonally it reminded me of James Graham's The Angry Brigade. The clever way the squatters out-manoeuvre the authorities and landlords feels satisfyingly like a huge two finger salute to the establishment while the personal stories of those who have found themselves homeless serve to demonstrate the challenges and harsh realities of everyday life.

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Review: Threads, Hope Theatre

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Threads: Samuel Lawrence and Katharine Davenport. Photo Lidia Crisafulli

Vic (Katherine Davenport) has made a mercy dash to see her ex Charlie (Samuel Lawrence) suspecting he may have done something to himself. He still lives in the flat they shared when she walked out of the relationship five years earlier and he's become a recluse. He is having problems letting go and moving on and seems to think she is too.

The invisible relationship bonds that connect people together, that are difficult to sever is an interesting subject (how do you let go of the past?) but David Lane's play wraps the story up in the supernatural - self-locking doors, flickering light bulbs, medical science defying symptoms etc which are a distraction rather than adding to the narrative or drama. You could see some of it as overt metaphor for being trapped in the past/broken hearted but rather it makes a potentially interesting relationship drama just rather odd at times.

As to the relationship itself there are hints of what Vic and Charlie were like as a couple but very little that sheds any light on what attracted them to each other and led them into the sort of relationship where you share a flat. As a result it is difficult to see why Vic and Charlie were together in the first place which weakens the idea of being tied to the past. The question marks over their past relationship dulls the dramatic impact, tension and any emotional tug of the piece.

There are some nice twists towards the very end of the play - and a particular scene that isn't one for the squeamish - but it feels too little, too late which is a shame.

Threads is at the Hope Theatre in Islington until April 29 and is 70 minutes without an interval.