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Oct 30th

Howard Brenton's Magnificence at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Joel Gilman (Jed), Tyson Douglas (Cliff), Daisy Hughes (Mary), Will Bliss (Will), Eva-Jane Willis (Veronica)

We are the writing on your wall!

Originally commissioned by the Royal Court Theatre in 1973, Howard Brenton's political play reflecting the state of Britain at that time has not been seen in London in over forty years. The Finborough in co-production with Fat Git Theatre is presenting a revival of Magnificence and sadly, many of the issues addressed in the play are still unresolved and remain as relevant as ever.

London, 1973. A group of left-wing activists have broken into an empty flat to protest against homelessness and redevelopment. The squatters hope to make a point by occupying the flat and hanging a banner from the window that nobody can actually read: "We are doing our humble best to wreck society". Newcomer Veronica (Eva-Jane Willis), who used to work at the BBC, is appalled by the lack of efficiency and action. After ten days the bailiff forces them out, using excessive violence against the pregnant Mary (Daisy Hughes), whilst Veronica is shouting quotes from Mao's little red book at the "fascists". Jed (Joel Gilman) is sent to prison and his girlfriend Mary miscarries. When Jed is released, he has become radicalised and plans to use gelignite to make an explosive statement.

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Hayward B Morse (Babs) and Tim Faulkner (Alice)

Set against the main plot are two darkly comic sketches, one entailing a conversation between the bailiff Slaughter (Chris Porter) and a police officer (Tim Faulkner) who thinks that we are all part of a Martian experiment. Slaughter, a racist and a bully, admits that he did have a bad conscience when harrassing a nice old British lady to repossess her flat, he didn't even blink when bullying her Pakistani neighbours. The second sketch involves dying Tory politician Babs (Hayward B Morse) who has been shuffled off into Academia after his extensive political career. He has invited his former lover Alice (Tim Faulkner) to keep him company on his last day. As they are punting along the Cam in this hilarious scene, Babs reminisces about old times and creates his own obituary. The strings all come together when Jed assaults Alice, a high-ranking Tory politician, with the intent to blow him up: "A little blaze for the the delight and encouragement of all your enemies."

The activists seem all very incompetent and toothless against the establishment. While they choose to leave their middle-class existence to squat in a run-down flat, a homeless man (quite a departure for Hayward B Morse) is already living there because he has no choice. Nobody cares about their protest except for the bailiff who considers them a nuisance and evicts them eventually for the redevelopment to go ahead. Today protests are far better organised, with the help of the internet and social media, and the efforts of this group seem pathetic at best. But how effective are our protests today? Redevelopment, gentrification, and homelessness are still very much with us, forty years later. However, violence should not be an option, as Brenton clearly demonstrates.

Josh Roche's production features an excellent cast, particularly Hayward B Morse as the retired Tory Babs, Tim Faulkner as the seemingly pleasant Alice who tries to keep his stiff-upper-lip attitude in any situation, and Chris Porter as the ruthless Slaughter who does have a conscience as long as his victim is white and British.

Designer Philip Lindley's set with peeling wallpaper and debris lining the walls is in absurd contrast with the posh Tory scene, adding to the irony of the play.

A highly relevant must-see production.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 19th November 2016

Finborough Theatre

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including one interval

Photographs by Tegid Cartwright.

 

Oct 24th

Gothic Season at the Hope Theatre: The House of Usher

By Carolin Kopplin

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What was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? 

"The Fall of the House of Usher" is one of Edgar Allan Poe's most popular short stories and has been adapted countless times, by directors as diverse as Roger Corman and surrealist filmmaker Jan Švankmajer - it even became part of a concept album by The Alan Parsons Project called "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" in the 1970s, which is, in my opinion, one of the best musical adaptations. Luke Adamson and Daniel Bottomley were also drawn to the atmospheric gothic tale and decided to create a musical version of the story. 

An unnamed narrator (Richard Lounds) visits his boyhood friend Roderick Usher (Cameron Harle), who resides in a mysterious and gloomy house together with his sister Madeline (Eloise Kay). Having received a letter from Roderick, informing him that his friend was feeling physically and emotionally ill, the narrator felt it his duty to rush to his friend. Roderick is pale and suffers from a heightened sensitivity of the senses. He seems afraid of his own house, still he won't let his sister leave the cursed place. The narrator spends several days trying to cheer up Roderick, listening to him play the guitar and reading him his favourite stories, but all his attempts fail, and he comes to realise that the house might be alive after all and out to destroy Roderick and his sister.

The performance takes place in the round with the actors, in period costumes, and the pianist / keyboarder, respectively, positioned at the four corners of the stage as the show begins. Roderick and Madeline have their distinctive spaces defining their characters (design by Verity Johnson): Roderick's is cluttered with books and musical instruments, Madeline's is dominated by a clinging vine which adds to the feeling of claustrophobia that seems to stifle her. The three actors also serve as the orchestra which is quite a feat considering that they sing and act in the show - with Richard Lounds playing the cello, Eloise Kay the clarinet, and Cameron Harle as Roderick - naturally - the guitar.

Luke Adamson and Phil Croft's production benefits from a dedicated cast, most of all Richard Lounds who does his best to create a gothic atmosphere, assisted by unsettling sound effects, but the musical numbers by Dan Bottomley fail to convey any sense of mystery or imagination - with the sole exception of "The Raven". True, I know the story well but I was not scared even once, despite the best efforts of the hard working actors. The music is too pleasant to be unsettling in any way. There is some drama due to the possessive relationship between Roderick and his twin sister, which is played by Cameron Harle and Eloise Kay with threatening intensity, yet the pace of the production is too slow and lacks suspense.

Richard Lounds, who has the hardest task as the unnamed narrator, has great audience rapport and kept my attention throughout the performance. Eloise Kay has a beautiful singing voice and gives a good performance as the fragile Madeline. Cameron Harle, dressed in cool black leather, convincingly switches between irrational exuberance and suicidal melancholy.   

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 5th November 2016 at the Hope Theatre

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including one interval.

Oct 23rd

The London Horror Festival at the Old Red Lion: The Wicker Hamper

By Carolin Kopplin

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“I’ll be right back” is sure to get you killed

The UK's original and largest festival of horror at the Old Red Lion Theatre is still going strong. A celebration of the ghoulish, the thrilling and the macabre performing arts, the London Horror Festival is exactly what you are looking for if you love Halloween.

The Wicker Hamper by Stack 10 Theatre is a spoof on all the horror classics you can possibly imagine including Psycho, The Exorcist, Nightmare on Elm Street, Frankenstein, The Wicker Man - obviously - and quite a few more, all in the short performance time of one hour.

As the lights fade, Nigel (Conor Boru) and Sally (Octavia Gilmore) make the pre-show announcements that turn into an absurd discussion about the use of cigarettes and smartphones during the performance. The interval announcement - although there is none - is equally hilarious.

The actual show begins with a young woman who is trying to escape from an evil presence wielding a bloody sword, yet, like in a nightmare, she is stuck in one place and it is almost too easy for the demon to catch up with her. - Welcome to the island of Winterisle!

The year is 1974 and Marcie (Hannah Grace May) checks into the Bates Hotel & Golf Club for the weekend before starting her new job with Lady Winterisle (Bethany Greenwood), who is in desperate need of an experienced fundraiser to save her theatre. The hotel is run by Norman (Donncha Kearney), a young man with a manic grin who is living with his mother. When Norman disappears after Marcie has witnessed a series of strange noises, she investigates together with Sgt Howard (Elliot Thomas), a police officer from the mainland - and still a virgin. As they explore a pagan burial ground, they encounter Igore (Sophie Hughes), a deformed creature and Lady Winterisle's henchman. Who will end up in the Wicker Hamper?

Ed Hartland's script is a bit uneven and lacks coherence but the references to everybody's favourite nightmares work well and the song "I'll be right back" is sure to get your killed is ingenious. The cast was very good throughout, especially Donncha Kearney, who gave a truly creepy performance as Norman, and a more comical one as the gravedigger "with a stupid accent" and of course Hannah Grace May as our heroine Marcie, who remained cool except for one blood curdling scream which has to be part of a horror show. The stage design consisted of only a few props and set pieces that were employed very effectively by the cast.

However, Stuart Vincent and Ed Hartland's production still seemed more like a work in progress than a finished production. Perhaps there was not enough rehearsal time - which is often the case in unfunded productions - but this is promising work, which deserves to be more widely seen.

There was quite a bit of audience participation, which I thought, could have been handled a bit more sensitively. Not everybody in the audience feels the urge to become part of the action.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 23rd October at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

More information about the London Horror Festival: www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/

More information about Stack 10 Theatre:

http://stack10theatre.wixsite.com/stack10

Oct 15th

Songs for the End of the World at Battersea Arts Centre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Milly Oldfield as Betty

Earth's silent. I think I might be the only one left.

After a successful run at the Vaults Festival earlier this year, Dom Coyote's apocalyptic cabaret is shown at the Battersea Arts Centre. Commissioned by the Battersea Arts Centre and supported by Kneehigh, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Tobacco Factory Theatres, Songs for the End of the World is part gig and part theatrical performance.

The show takes place in the Member's Bar on the first floor but the audience is advised to use a different route around the back where some of the cast, clad in white overalls, guide us through plastic curtains into the auditorium. A placard with "REPENT THE END IS NIGH" welcomes us to the world of Ashley-Coombe.

Inspired by Philip K. Dick's post-apocalyptic novel Dr. Bloodmoney and the star-gazing world of Ziggy Stardust, the show, created by Dom Coyote and Michael Vale, is set in the dystopian future of post-Brexit Britain. Ashley-Coombe is one of the few safe-zone communities in New Albion, built and controlled by New Global Inc. The Free Radicals oppose the money-grabbing company and fight for a better future whilst evangelists preach about Armageddon. Astronaut Jim Walters is on his way to Mars to found a new colony with his new Eve when the catastrophe happens and he finds himself trapped in Earth's orbit. He spends his final days broadcasting songs for the end of the world hoping for a sign of life whilst Earth remains silent.

Dom Coyote plays astronaut Jim Walters and the rest of his band "The Bloodmoneys" take on the other roles. Milly Oldfield, the other lead singer, plays Betty who joins the Free Radicals, after listening to their pirate station, because she doesn't want to become a New Global clone. Ted Barnes is Arnold, a man tired of war and having nightmares about an imminent nuclear assault. His doctor (John Biddle) recomends Arnold use a dream purifier before he turns into the leader of Mrs Worthing's New Church, complete with white neon light crosses and her own New Bible preaching xenophobia.

The plot is rather thin but Dom Coyote's music covers a variety of styles, from rock 'n roll to Pink Floyd, performed beautifully by the band, particularly Daisy Palmer on the drums. Brett Harvey provides an impressive video design to create the pulp fiction world of Ashley-Coombe.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 15th October 2016 at the Battersea Arts Centre.

Running time: 60 minutes.

Photograph by Libby Overton.

Further info on the show:

http://www.domcoyote.com/projects/songs-for-the-end-of-the-world/

Oct 13th

The Right Ballerina at the Hen & Chickens

By Carolin Kopplin

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 We have voted.

Penny Leigh is the top ballerina of the company, attracting audiences from near and far who come to see her dance Gisèle. Artistic Director Jack Stevens and the board consider her a valuable asset. But Penny has a secret that endangers her entire future. When the enigmatic Mr X, who represents a powerful organisation, makes it known to the world, Penny has to make a choice between standing up for her convictions and saving her career.

Artistic Director Jack Stevens (Adam Grayson) has a problem. Somebody has spread a rumour that his principal dancer Penny Leigh (Genevieve Berkeley-Steele) is a member of an extreme right-wing party. When member of the board Trevor (Gregory A Smith) informs Jack that protesters are marching outside the theatre and booing, Jack is sure that the accusations are unwarranted and the whole thing will blow over in a few days. Penny refuses to comment on the accusations and expects Jack and the board to protect her freedom of thought and expression. Even after she agrees to comment on the accusations, the protests don't cease but instead grow stronger, affecting the box office and turning the board against her. The mysterious Mr X (Filip Krenus), who seems to suffer from a form of neurosis, informs Jack that he is representing an organisation and Penny Leigh will have to resign if he wants the protests to stop. There is no remedy as the organisation has voted on it.

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The absurdist drama by award-winning playwright Billy Cowan is very entertaining as well as highly relevant. There are quite a few recent examples when political and public pressure have forced the arts to cancel performances or exhibitions making them appear spineless in the face of massive opposition, often by badly informed people. Cowan asks important questions regarding the reliance of the arts on private sponsors who might pull out at any time if the arts organisation does not conform to their ideas. Another crucial issue in the play is the question whether freedom of expression should have its limits at views that we find appalling. It is easy to be protective of political thoughts and ideas that match our own. These questions are especially relevant in our society that is still deeply divided over "Brexit".

Skilfully directed by Matthew Gould, the performance is fast-paced and features a good cast: Adam Grayson as the smooth and slightly manipulative Jack Stevens, Genevieve Berkeley-Steele - convincing as a star ballerina who worked her way up and made the company only to find herself abandoned by her friends and employers when she needs them most, Gregory A Smith as the duplicitous Trevor, and Filip Krenus as Mr X, an unremarkable, slightly neurotic man who wields enormous power through his organisation.    

Inspired by true events this darkly absurdist drama is a fun night out but also provides food for thought.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 21st October 2016 at the Hen & Chickens

109 St Pauls Road, London, N1 2NA

Box office: 0207 704 2001

Book online: www.unrestrictedview.co.uk

Photograph provided by Chris Hislop.

Oct 12th

Trident Moon at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Listen? Now I am the one who is to listen? Hai? Where were you when my sons were screaming? Where were you when my husband scream? Hai? No no no no no…I am not to listen to you, I am listen only to myself. 

Commissioned by the Finborough Theatre, the world premiere of Trident Moon by award-winning Canadian playwright Anusree Roy almost conincides with the 70th anniversary of India's partition in 1947. Her UK debut focuses on the women who are caught up in the conflict.

India, 1947. Six women are hiding in a coal truck that will take them from East Pakistan (today's Bangladesh) to the new India. Alia (Sakuntala Ramanee) has captured her former Muslim employers and intends to have her revenge on them for the death of her husband and her sons, who were beheaded by Muslims. She is well aware that the women will be raped and probably killed, including the child she has raised, yet like an Angel of Death she remains unmoved. Alia's sister has been shot and is critically injured. Also in the truck is Alia's mentally handicapped niece Arun (Rebecca Banatvala). As the Muslim women are pleading with Alia not to take them to India, rioting and shouting can be heard outside the truck. On their way to India Alia picks up more passengers: a very pregnant Hindu woman and a grandmother with her niece, who are disguised as Muslims.

Anusree Roy's play describes how friends and neighbours can turn into deadly enemies, which we have more recently witnessed in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and the Middle East. Trident Moon focuses on the role of women in these conflicts as they are often used as tools to harm the enemy. Throughout their journey, Alia and her passengers are in constant fear that they might be stopped by the wrong side, which would mean that half of them would be raped and murdered.

This well-intentioned play deals with very important issues and carries a crucial and humane message. Yet it is lacking in content and there are too many implausibilities and logical errors. Would a highly pregnant woman really take a blunt knife and try to cut out a bullet from a stomach wound, without any way to sterilise the knife (except spit) whilst travelling across bumpy roads? This scene comes across as quite amateurish and also feels too long like Anna Pool's production as a whole, which was meant to be 90 minutes according to the program but now lasts almost two hours. However, the production benefits from an outstanding cast.

When the women encounter a Sikh thug, who wants to rob them, nobody thinks of untying the Muslim women although any kind of assistance would be helpful at this moment. The ensuing search for hidden gold is very unpleasant to watch and humiliating in the extreme but actually ineffective except for its demonstration of the disgusting treatment of women in times of war and civil unrest. The author also includes a child-bride, who survived the burning of her whole family, scarred and marked for life. Although I agree that it is necessary to make the public aware of these horrors, it would be more helpful to find out where this intense hatred and aggression stems from instead of focusing simply on the terrible crimes that caused by it.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 18th October 2016

Finborough Theatre

Running time: 115 minutes without an interval. 

Oct 12th

Steven Berkoff's Lunch and The Bow of Ulysses at the Trafalgar Studios

By Clare Brotherwood

The end of the pier show, Steven Berkoff’s double bill is not. These two short plays may be set on a pier, with a backdrop of the sea and sounds of a funfair and even donkeys braying (do they even still have donkey rides on beaches these days?) in the background, but there is nothing superficial about Lunch and The Bow of Ulysses.

In true Berkoff style the dialogue and the style of acting punches you in the face, and in the intimate space that is the Trafalgar Studios it is almost explosive.

Certainly, at times, Man’s character seems too big for the small space, and the energy that Shaun Dooley (currently in TV’s DCI Banks) puts into his performance made me glad I wasn’t sitting in the front row! Nigel Harman may be memorable as an actor in EastEnders and Downton Abbey, but he is now certainly making his mark as a director. He delivers, with a freshness, what Berkoff is about.

Lunch was written in 1983 and shows what happens when Man and Woman first meet, on a pier during their lunch break.

The exaggerated mannerisms, so typical of Berkoff, and Man’s awkwardness as he tries to chat up Woman, cause much amusement, and should be at odds with the beautiful, poetic dialogue. Instead, we gape in wonder as Dooley chews every word, savouring them or violently spitting them out.

Woman is the complete opposite - quietly leading Man on with very little expression, and Emily Bruni is beautifully controlled.

There are scenes which are uncomfortable to watch, and our perception of the characters change, but the exchange between them is sometimes electrifying.

The Bow of Ulysses was written in 2002 and is a sequel to Lunch. Now we find Man and Woman 20 years on and with an unhappy marriage behind them, blaming each other for their own inadequacies, soured and disappointed. It’s painful to watch, the only relief being that Woman’s delivery is so deadpan and cutting we can’t help but laugh. But is it a nervous laugh you make when you see how true to life - your life - it is.

Berkoff, in the capable hands of Harman, Dooley and Bruni, certainly hits home!

 

Steven Berkoff’s Lunch and The Bow of Ulysses is at the Trafalgar Studios until November 5

www.atgtickets.com

Oct 12th

Somewhere in England at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre

By Douglas McFarlane

Somewhere In England 

 

The New Wimbledon Theatre was closed when I arrived for my review. It was the Greek owner of The Stage Door restaurant opposite who told me.  “There’s no lights on”.  I hastily checked the original email, was I in the wrong theatre ? It was the Wimbledon STUDIO theatre around the corner.  Lights were off there too. I quickly called the publicist who made a call to her on site colleague and when I next looked over, the neon lights came on followed shortly by the door being opened and the audience filing in.  It’s a small theatre, around 150 seats bringing you close up and personal with the performance. The bar was at the back of the stage so you literally had to walk across the stage in order to get there. It was a nice feeling. A feeling of belonging. A feeling of having been there. I was home.

The 4 piece band started playing their tunes firstly on the Casio keyboard with a double bass following up giving it depth, add in a bit of flute (and later saxophone), kick in some light drums and you were back in the 1940s.  Somewhere in rural England. The summer of 1943. Our local lads were off to the army leaving behind their girlfriends, mums, vicars and older men who became wardens.  The American GI’s arrived and things started to change. This musical took you right to the heart of the experience.

Firstly there were the protests “Yankees go home”, then the tea parties attempting to integrate the visitors, then the “boy-meets-girl but girl has boyfriend in the army” dilemma. You can’t help but get emotionally involved. How would you react if you were her fella ? Some of the girls are positively motivated by so much attention and others are more reserved but can’t escape the simple charms of a kind-hearted lad.

Somewhere In England is a simple yet very moving musical and it caught me unawares a few times largely as a result of the quality of the acting. It’s hard to single out anyone because every single one of the 13 actors immersed themselves deeply in their part. You know they’ve thought about it from the start, when you wonder why they are behaving in such a different way without even saying anything and against what you expect. Then in the next scene it becomes evident as the story unfolds, and hence you then get why the character was like that.

The female characters were the strongest by far as result of the nuances they had to portray, but the lads made up for it with their high quality singing, their exhausting dance routines and confidence in themselves to deliver an American accent, even while singing.

 I laughed constantly at the older duo who were always mulling around, snooping on goings on, while slowly becoming more intimate with each other. The elderly vicar, who played the same part in the original 1987 production of the musical, delivered his lines to perfection and added an element of class to the production.

The arrangements of the songs, the clear and emotional lyrics, some great tunes well played by the band and the smooth running of the play made this a joy to watch and  first class entertainment. Well done to Ambassadors Theatre Group for supporting such a performance, which we’d normally only see on the amateur stage.  This was independent theatre at it’s best and fantastic to see. 

 

Somewhere In England is at the Wimbledon Studio Theatre until Saturday. All performance are sold out.

Oct 8th

Domestica at the Battersea Arts Centre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Tonight there will be the truth in its banality and its horror.

Following their critically acclaimed work Amusements (2012) and Karaoke (2013), award-winning live-art and experimental theatre company Sleepwalk Collective are celebrating their tenth anniversary with a UK tour of their new show Domestica, the final part of a trilogy entitled Lost In The Funhouse, starting off at the Battersea Arts Centre.

Described by the company as "part narcoleptic beauty pageant, part psychosexual fever dream", Domestica examines our relationship with classical art - from the ancient Greeks to 19th century naturalism.

The show is divided into seven panels, each examining a work of art - paintings as well as literature and music -, set in different centuries. The First Panel, however, is set today and entails a declaration of war by Sleepwalk Collective: "us versus you, the audience" as smoke is rising behind the speaker who is bathed in an eerie light and promises that "we are going to bore you to death."

Three women, wearing long dresses in primary colours with big bows on their backs, making them appear like gifts that are waiting to be unwrapped, form tableaux vivants from classical works, starting off with Botticelli's Venus, described in the Second Panel (1485). Whilst one of the cast is posing, another adds numbered blocks on the stage indicating missing props, such as a pool of blood or a curtain, whilst the third reads the footnotes referring to the numbers as they are projected onto a big screen. The growing amount of numbered blocks eventually make the stage look like a crime scene whilst a disturbingly monotonous soundtrack vibrates across the auditorium.

The works of art all feature women - love goddesses, Madonnas and victims of crimes, the Three Sisters in Chekhov's play who are "decaying over four acts" or the victims of Don Giovanni who ejects his seeds into women all over Europe.

This production is not actually a celebration of the classics, instead it is trying to shed new light on the way women are depicted in these classical works that were created by men who categorised and used them as projections for their fantasies, thereby influencing society as a whole. Propagating the ideal of beauty, the content becomes secondary although the underlying messages remain stuck in our subconscience. 

Sammy Metcalfe's texts, written together with the ensemble, are poetic and hard-hitting as they dissect the misogynism of classical works of art that we adore without ever questioning what they truly entail.

A fascinating and challenging production.

By Carolin Kopplin

The short run at Battersea Arts Centre has ended.

Running time: 75 minutes with no interval

UK Tour Dates:

CAMBRIDGE, Junction | 10 October | junction.co.uk MANCHESTER, HOME | 14 – 15 October | homemcr.org | Part of Orbit Festival BIRMINGHAM, Birmingham Repertory Theatre | 17 October | birmingham-rep.co.uk CREWE, Axis Arts Centre | 18 October | axisartscentre.org.uk NEWCASTLE, GIFT Festival | 20 October | giftfestival.co.uk

Photograph by Alessia Bombaci.

Oct 8th

Confessional at the Southwark Playhouse

By Clare Brotherwood

 

To be honest, the situation in which I found myself last night was one I would go to any lengths to avoid.

I was sitting in a dingy pub watching all hell break loose as a bunch of low life screamed and shouted at each other, at times becoming violent. I didn’t feel comfortable; I didn’t know which of my fellow drinkers would kick off next. But, sadly, it is all too common a part of life in the 21st century.

Only, I wasn’t in a real pub, the ‘low life’ were actors, and the play they were performing was written in 1970, originally set in the 50s, and written by none other than Tennessee Williams. Nevertheless, it is bang up-to-date, with a drunken, mini-skirted woman tottering about on high heels, and with sex, racism and homophobia in the mix.

The fact that it feels so real is down to some first class acting, the imagination of director Jack Silver and the vision of theatre company Tramp.

The only thing that isn’t real is that the carpet isn’t sticky!

It isn’t so much curtain up as opening time as the audience is allowed to drift into what is essentially a pub. You buy your drink, find a table and start socialising.

You have no idea what is going to happen. You are not given a programme until you leave so you don’t know who are the actors and who are the punters - which makes it all the more believable. And even though I’m telling you something of what to expect you still won’t know what’s going to happen. For although the words may be the same no one peformance is. The actors are allowed to make it up as they go along. They don’t even decide in advance whether they are going to laugh or cry - which makes this production even more of a masterpiece.

I don’t want to give away too much about the actors for fear of identifying them for future audiences, but Holby City fans can’t fail to notice Rob Ostlere who played Arthur Digby until his death from cancer earlier this year. In Confessional he plays a grubby looking, beer swilling chef with a propensity to belch, but that characterisation doesn’t sit as easily on him as does the rather timid man who wants to keep out of the way of trouble.

I can’t write an appreciation of this play, however, without mentioning Lizzie Stanton who plays Leona, a beautician who lives in a trailer, and who gets increasingly drunk and emotional as the 95-minute production goes on. From the quake in her voice as she begins to lose control to her hysterical screaming, the intensity of her feelings is hard to bear - and then she has us feeling sorry for her as she cries over the death of her younger brother. A true tour de force.

But while this is a platform for some superb acting, imaginatively presented, the fact that it appears so real is also its downfall. It’s an assault on the senses, and way too much like the reality of life we all try to avoid.

 

Confessional is at the Southwark Playhouse until October 29

 

Box Office: 020 7407 0234

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk