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Review: No Quarter at the Royal Court

510x340.fitandcropThere was a frisson of excitement, last night, as the lights dimmed for the third preview performance of Polly Stenham's new play: No Quarter.

It may have been the prospect of a new play by the rising star, it may have been the ramshackled drawing-room set that seemed to envelop the audience or the abundance of actors also watching - John Heffernan and Michael 'the cute one from Jumpy' Marcus just two of the faces I recognised.

The Jerwood Upstairs space certainly feels cosy. Strewn with moth-eaten rugs, assorted mis-matched furniture, shelves bursting with books and a grand piano just begging for someone to run their hand over the keyboard, it whiffs of eccentric money fallen on hard times.

Robin (Tom Sturridge), the drawing room's inhabitant also whiff's of eccentricity. He wears no shoes and his dress is a mix of day and night wear. He pretends to be drunk when his older brother Oliver (Patrick Kennedy) turns up looking for their mother who has absconded from her nursing home. In that first exchange Robin comes across as spoilt, clever, naive and younger than his 24-years.

There is much to potentially dislike about him. He flops around a lot, affecting an air of a misunderstood artist, living on the fringe of real life, but Stenham puts him in an unthinkable situation that hints of something deeper in his soul that somehow redeems him and makes him likeable.

The drawing room and house is where he grew up, was home-schooled and coddled by Lily his mother (Maureen Beattie). It is his sanctuary from the outside world he has been ill-equipped to deal with, his comfort blanket and it is slowly being pulled out of his grip.

Sturridge probably isn't the strongest of performers director Jeremy Herrin could have chosen to play Robin, perhaps he needs a little more time to bed into the role, but he does a good job as do the predominantly young, supporting cast.

Stenham's first play, That Face, written when she was just 19, transferred from the Royal Court to the West End. Tusk Tusk, her second received rave reviews and I think No Quarter cements her place as a formidable young writing talent. It isn't perfect, Tommy (Taron Egerton), the drug-dealing teen Robin picks up at the local pub, feels a little under-developed but it is sharp, funny and has well-judged emotional depth.

No Quarter runs at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court until Feb 9. Listen out for Mark Lawson's review on Radio 4's Front Row later this week as he was in the audience last night too.


A couple of nice second degree connections and a third degree that I like:

Taron Egerton who plays Tommy was in Last of the Haussmans with Rory Kinnear (Hamlet, Richard II, Skyfall) and Patrick Oliver was in Atonement with Romola Garai who of course is smitten with Mr W's Freddie in The Hour.

The third degree is assistant director Ned Bennett who directed Mercury Fur in which Olly Alexander appeared. He played Mr W's brother in Bright Star and will be appearing on stage with him this year in Peter and Alice.