Posts tagged ‘trafalgar studios’

10 April, 2010

Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train

Ricky Fearon and Ricky Copp in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train

Ricky Fearon and Ricky Copp in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train. Image by Keith Pattison

Trafalgar Studios, 8 – 24 April 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Angel knows putting an educational bullet in a man’s backside isn’t the same as attempted murder. Lucius has found Jesus, and is busy atoning for multiple homicide through prayer. For Mary Jane, successfully defending a (technically) guilty man is a thrill she can’t do without. And Officer Valdez sleeps sound at night knowing his charges had their chances and blew ’em, so anything he does to them is a consequence of their own actions.

Every character in Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train is at peace with who they are and the things they’ve done. This isn’t how prison dramas begin; it’s where they typically end.

This, then, is not a journey of redemption in the Hollywood sense. Practically the opposite, in fact. The characters – two inmates, one Puerto Rican one African-American, two guards and a lawyer, all white – spend the play chipping away at each other’s ivory towers, eventually leaving them all defenceless, divested of their comfortable rationalisations.

The implication is an uncomfortable one: that there may be some acts, some decisions, that we shouldn’t be allowed the luxury of coming to amicable terms with.

Because Stephen Adly Guirgis invests every one of his characters with the necessary wit to systematically dismantle the others’ worldviews, the dialogue – and it’s a dialogue-heavy play and no mistake – crackles like regiments exchanging salvos. As befits that martial aspect it’s riddled with profanity; but it’s also eloquent and lyrical. Lucius (Ricky Fearon) in particular sways with the compelling vocal cadences of a proselytising preacher.

In his mouth – and in Angel’s stuttering one, and through Mary Jane’s clipped, honest phrasing – the play’s philosophy, however uncomfortable to contemplate, sounds like the only one that makes the slightest sense.

Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Crew includes Esther Baker (director) and Katy McPhee (set designer)

Cast includes Ricky Copp (D’Amico), Ricky Fearon (Lucius Jenkins), Denise Gough (Mary Jane Hanrahan), Theo Jones (Angel Cruz) and Dominic Taylor (Valdez)

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17 November, 2009

Public Property

Trafalgar Studios, 16 November – 5 December 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

At first glance, Public Property is a boilerplate Trafalgar Studio 2 production. Recognisable faces: check (Robert Daws, Nigel Harman and even Stephen Fry, phoning it in via vid-cameo). Humour that doesn’t tax the brain: check (sight gags and comic situational escalation best enjoyed after a glass of wine in the bar). Skilled but slightly overly wordy scriptwriting: check (courtesy of Sam Peter Jackson).

On closer inspection, however, this is something of a rare find: a play about three gay men in which the characters’ sexuality is almost incidental, an extra thematic layer rather than the piece’s raison d’être.

Daws is celebrated newsreader Geoffrey Hammond, who throws himself on the mercy of his ruthless publicist, Larry De Vries (Harman) after being caught by paparrazzi in flagrante delicto with 16-year-old Jamie (Steven Webb). Geoff does protest once or twice that the press wouldn’t be interested if Jamie had been a girl, but the play is more concerned with celebrity, PR and fickle public goodwill than “LGBTQ issues”. Geoff knows, despite his protestations of innocence, that this incident matters more to his reputation than any number of broadcasting gongs, and even Larry is branded repeatedly by his lowest point: the media only remembers him for being booted off the judging panel of a failed reality show.

It’s often difficult to feel any sympathy towards Geoff, who really has only his own indiscretion to blame for his downfall, but Daws does an excellent job of showing the desperation behind the bluster, and his raw vulnerability when talking to or about his offstage lover Paul provides the production’s tenderest moments. Harman is believable whether smooth-talking and in control or plain incredulous at his client’s behaviour, though he flips a little too easily between the two modes, and reacts so little to mentions of Larry’s debts and vices that they seem more a throwaway subplot than an integral part of the character’s backstory.

Jackson’s script, too, is generally sound, though a bit baggy towards the end of Act One, and overly reliant on the repeat-repeat louder-shout-shout-pause formula for writing arguments. Like most Studio 2 shows, Public Property has its flaws, but is still a satisfying enough night out; and it boasts the additional merit of sidestepping the damaging and judgmental “gay play” label which, given its premise, it could easily have been slapped with.

Written by Sam Peter Jackson

Crew includes Hanna Berrigan (director) and Helen Goddard (designer)

Cast includes Robert Daws (Geoffrey Hammond), Nigel Harman (Larry De Vries) and Steven Webb (Jamie Sullivan)

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16 May, 2009

Ordinary Dreams (Or, How to Survive a Meltdown with Flair)

Trafalgar Studios, 12 May – 6 June 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

There’s a crisis pupating on the streets of Great Britain. The name of that crisis is Middle Class Extremism, also known as Bourgeois Fundamentalism.

Marcus Markou pins down the causes and symptoms of this terrible social malaise in his new play Ordinary Dreams (Or, How to Survive a Meltdown with Flair). Staged in a West End theatre, traditional haunt of the middle classes, the play is perfectly situated to speak to those most at risk.

Markou’s case study is Miles (James Lance). Until the birth of his first child, Miles is just your average worrier. But terrified for his newborn, whom he feels powerless to protect from bailout debt, broken glass and blue language, Miles snaps and starts chasing local youths down the road with a candlestick.

Markou may not actually have intended his play as an examination of an ordinary, middle-ground thinker’s conversion to rabid right-wingery, but that’s how Miles’s arc seems to function, and he’s the main character. His wife Penny (Imogen Slaughter), uni mate Dan (Adrian Bower) and Dan’s girlfriend Layla (Sia Berkeley) all have plotlines of their own, but Miles is the only character whose dreams we see enacted on stage.

In Miles’s fantasies, he’s running for Prime Minister on an ‘ordinary man’ ticket, with exciting music and a PA who says things like “you can have me any time you want”. All four actors’ performances are actually more convincing for being played large, and the unreality of the situation excuses Markou’s less speakable lines (of which there are few, but which jar noticeably when they occur in ‘reality’).

Outside Miles’s head, the story is uninspiringly standard soap-opera stuff. Dan and Penny have history that looks set to recur, and Layla exists mainly to unintentionally needle Penny (though credit to Berkeley, who manages to make engaging a character who could easily become chirpily grating).

Miles snaps because reality can’t live up even to his modest ideals; similarly, for the audience, reality can’t compare to fantasy. If he’s not careful, Markou might find his play spawns auditoria full of Middle Class Extremists.

Written by Marcus Markou

Crew includes Adam Barnard (director), Vicki Fifield (designer), Mike Robertson (lighting designer) and Steve Mayo (sound designer)

Cast includes Sia Berkeley (Layla), Adrian Bower (Dan), James Lance (Miles) and Imogen Slaughter (Penny)

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16 February, 2009

Touched

Trafalgar Studios, 4 February – 14 March 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Since beginning her acting career at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre, Sadie Frost has enjoyed a number of film roles on both sides of the camera. So what is it about Zoe Lewis’ new play Touched that tempted Frost out of celluloid’s clammy embrace and back behind the footlights?

Probably only Frost herself can answer that question. Lewis’ writing is accomplished, fluent and frequently very funny, but for a one-woman show Touched places surprisingly few demands on its star.

Frost plays Lesley, a Madonna-obsessed (and slightly dim) 14 year old that grows into a Madonna-obsessed (and slightly dim) student, then career girl. She narrates her growth into adulthood, complete with sexual and other awakenings, in and around a rumpled double bed, a bathroom sink and a huge mirror.

The mirror forms the back wall of the space and the modesty screen for Frost’s many costume changes. It’s festooned with fairy lights and plastered with pictures of Madonna; when Lesley looks in the mirror, she sees not herself, but her sparkling idol.

(Inexplicably, the publicity material persists in referring to Lesley as “plump”. Frost is anything but, and the script makes no mention whatsoever of Lesley’s weight.)

Fans of the Queen of Pop will no doubt enjoy Lesley’s running commentary on the fluctuating quality of her music, delivered while dressed in versions of her more memorable outfits and punctuated by reconstructions of her most famous dance routines.

Likewise, fans of Frost can enjoy being up close and personal in the intimate Trafalgar Studio 2. But while she’s as uninhibited as a stage actor (and Modern Woman) should be – portraying with abandon a young fan’s ability to lose herself in the music – the play doesn’t allow her to show off anything particularly noteworthy.

The problem is Lesley’s fixation with Madonna. Which, unfortunately, is the premise around which her characterisation revolves.

Madonna stands in for the concept of the Modern Woman from the 80s until today. Her many reinventions symbolise the chameleonic properties ascribed the Modern Woman by the changing expectations of society.

So Lesley makes all the important decisions in her life – when to lose her virginity; whether to choose marriage or career prospects; her sexuality – on the basis of Madonna lyrics. Which is such a monumentally stupid idea that we’re disinclined to feel sympathetic when those decisions inevitably backfire.

Frost is to be commended for at least making Lesley engaging to watch – though the conversational style of Lewis’ writing and the small performance space, which allows for plenty of conspiratorial eye contact with the audience, make her task that much easier.

Most troubling is the apparent conclusion that Lesley would have led a happier life had she settled down in her hometown with the first man she slept with, instead of pursuing her (admittedly facile) ambitions to London and New York.

While Lesley seems happy to acknowledge the might-have-beens and move on, the positioning of that throwaway suggestion right before the house lights ensures that it sticks in the audience’s minds on the way home.

Of course, it’s only a point of view – but as a conclusion to a play awash with images and doctrines of Women’s Liberation, it feels a little self-contradictory.

Written by Zoe Lewis

Crew includes Douglas Rintoul (director), Colin Richmond (set designer), Jamie Bradley (movement director) and Laura Thomas and Sian Jenkins (costume)

Cast includes Sadie Frost (Lesley)

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19 October, 2008

Later

Trafalgar Studios, 15 – 24 October 2008

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

Making new writing accessible is Paines Plough’s business. Later is a new writing ’salon’ in which playwrights curate playwrights to showcase work in progress, previews, experiments and rehearsed readings. At only £5 per ticket it’s affordable to practically everyone, and starting at 10 p.m. it’s accessible even to those seizing opportunities for overtime.

Tonight it’s the turn of Mile End playwright Dan Rebellato to curate, and the result is a rehearsed reading of Fear and Misery in the Third Term, a new piece written especially for the evening by Rebellato, Paines Plough writer in residence Duncan Macmillan and three others. Inspired by Brecht’s Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, the play examines today’s Labour government through a series of short scenes.

Less Epic Theatre and more Simon Stephens, the scenes portray their tenuously linked characters’ experiences of the credit crunch and evaporating Arts Council funding as symptoms of a more pervasive British malaise, embodied in a teenager on a high ledge, leaving messages on his unfaithful girlfriend’s voicemail. There are some excellent moments of black humour: a couple gets bogged down with explanations of global economics in the process of telling their son why they can’t go to Disneyworld; and two investment bankers, livid at being painted as villainous orchestrators of the credit crisis, attempt to outdo each other, Four Yorkshiremen style, with tales of their painful, neglected childhoods.

But it’s only the boy on the ledge who, from his commanding vantage point, can see the big picture: the erosion of fundamental human kindness and decency. It’s something that underlies the comparatively petty complaints of the other characters; which forces the government (as the boy points out) to place adverts on public transport reminding people how to behave; and which leads the boy, originally only on his ledge for some peace, to actually consider jumping, at the behest of unfeeling onlookers interested only in a big spectacle.

Of course, Fear and Misery in the Third Term has now had its airing and may well never be seen again; the point of providing all this detail is only to indicate the level of quality you can expect at Later. What exactly you might experience on other occasions is something you can only discover by going.

Curated by Dan Rebellato

Cast includes Richard Atwill, Kirsty Bushell, Frances Grey, Jonathan McGuinness, Pippa Nixon, Fred Ridgeway, David Sibley, Rosie Thomson and Danny Lee Wynter