Tuesday 30 April 2019


National Theatre, Lyttelton
23rd February, 2019, matinee

We are all Tartuffe

In Christopher Hampton’s bilingual bash at the Molière classic last year, Tartuffe had supposedly come to rescue the materialistic tycoons blinded by the fame of the Hollywood Hills. The inanities of the modern world in this production may well be closer to home in Highgate, but the world that John Donnelly has created seems far away from reality. The effect, for me, was to show the lives of two different hypocrites from two very different sides of London crossing tracks.

Robert Jones’ design is of a gauche townhouse living room, stinking of money and tastelessness: midnight blue walls, a contemporary orb light fixture, and a huge naked gold statue holding a pink feather boa dominate the set. Kevin Doyle’s Orgon has a military past and since risen through the ranks to influence government. He plays Orgon as so to hint that he was once a man who valued the rational and enjoyed a simple upbringing but has since thrown it away. Since then, he’s batted an eyelid at too many parties and too much greed in his family, leaving him to fall under the spell of Denis O’Hare’s ersatz Tartuffe. O’Hare’s Tartuffe has several echoes of Johnny Rooster Byron. Not only did O’Hare’s performance – mixing with the audience beforehand, walking around in his pants, enamoured by his own charm – have an air of Mark Rylance’s in Jerusalem, but Orgon finding him in a portacabin on an industrial estate just outside Archway is the sort of fable you may hear of Rooster Byron. Kitty Archer gives a memorable performance as a stereotypically Millennial Mariane. But Geoffrey Lumb gives the most enjoyable performance as her boyfriend, the pompous champagne socialist street poet Valère. Him screaming the line ‘why does no one respect the revolution?!’ gets the most laughs; it reminded of that Tynan point about an audience loving an irate man shouting ‘I am perfectly calm’. Audiences still love it, in all its variations.

There’s a lot of belief to suspend for the play to make sense in a contemporary Western setting: Orgon insisting who his daughter marries; the oddly close brother-in-law character. Ultimately, Tartuffe is unravelled as a ‘plain old social climber… drinking the wine, eating the food, staining the sheets’, a reminder that there are many types of fake even if they don't resemble the ones Orgon's used to. But it seems to me that Tartuffe would only seem outright outrageous in a setting which is completely realistic, or to have an Orgon et al. that’s so out of touch with the modern world that Tartuffe actually seems rational. But in this version, both worlds are exaggerated and I'm unsure as to what the effect of that is. Nevertheless, Blanche McIntyre’s production is a colourful, lively romp which, in the play’s dying moments, adds a small coup in that the stage begins to tilt towards the audience. As Orgon and his family start to slide off the stage, it’s a reminder that their world is not as secure as they would like, no matter the clothes they wear, the parties they throw or the power they once yielded. Namaste.

Tartuffe played at the National Theatre until 30th April, 2019.

Kevin Doyle and Hari Dhillon in Tartuffe. Credit: Manuel Harlan.

#ReadaPlayaWeek - April

Effie’s Burning (1987) by Valerie Windsor

“Don’t ask no silly questions, my Mum said,
and you won’t get told no lies”

Windsor’s play is over 30 years old, yet the fact that Effie’s Burning still resonates deeply in a world of social segregation and ignorance is a hard-hitting reminder that we have much further to go in terms of ensuring the welfare of the most vulnerable members of our communities. Sixty year old Effie is horribly injured, recovering in hospital from a fire at the care home where she lives – a fire the authorities are insisting was caused by Effie herself. When young Dr Kovacs takes an interest in Effie and vows to find out what happened to her lifelong friend, Alice, the truth is shocking and deeply tragic.

Windsor manages to get under the skin of several pertinent issues with wit, empathy and clarity in a play which benefits from brevity and intimacy. As we hear of Effie’s upbringing in a cold, unloving farmhouse – her name a shorthand for ‘Effing Brat’ as coined by her father – as well as Dr Kovacs’ frequent humiliations by her bullying supervisor and head surgeon, the resounding theme is that of the injustices dealt to, and exploitation of, women across generations, heritage, and class divisions. The tendency to manage what are considered to be ‘problem children’ by sweeping them under the carpet is a horrifying concept and the insinuation that Dr Kovacs is the first person ever to sympathise with Effie, or even to ask her about her life, is heart-breaking.

On a personal level, I found some of the descriptions of child mental health facilities to be nauseatingly evocative, while Effie’s recollection of the day she was removed from her family home – and the reason for doing so – is incredibly distressing. The near sub-human way in which ‘difficult’ patients are treated – isolation, the severing of close friendships – is a hard-hitting reminder of the issues surrounding the care of vulnerable people that prevails. One only has to look at local and national news reports of institutional deaths resulting from neglect to see the dire need for progress and radical restructuring of mental health and social care systems.

The scattering of ‘knock knock’ jokes throughout lends the play a structure that mirrors Effie’s psychological strain and trust issues. The subversion of such jokes cleverly plays with the both Dr Kovacs’ and the audience/reader’s perceptions of ‘rules’ and ‘truth’. Windsor also imbues the piece with a magic realism that results in a dreamlike quality – an effect which pays off during Effie’s final recollection of the fire and Dr Kovacs’ stand against her horrible boss. It’s subtle and very, very compelling.

Letters Home (1979) by Rose Leiman Goldemberg

“I am writing the best poems of my life.
They will make my name”

Despite my background of literature and mental health struggles, I (I’m rather ashamed to say) have never read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. It’s one of those novels I’ve always intended on reading eventually, but then life and other books seem to get in the way. Yet, having now read Goldemberg’s Letters Home (an adaptation of Aurelia Plath’s epistolary memoire), I shall make it my solid mission to do so!

Plath’s death is one of literature’s greatest tragedies, and what Letters Home does is gives us a dazzling insight into the tormented ecstasy of the poet’s mind. From her college days and the numerous prizes she won in ladies’ magazines, to her fateful marriage to Ted Hughes and her struggles with motherhood, Plath’s world is brought to life by Goldemberg with a powerful vivacity that encapsulates the woman’s spirit. The play is performed as a duologue, alternating between duels, duets and ‘round’ style verse-like prose. In the afterword, Goldemberg impresses the importance of using only the words put down by Sylvia (in her letters) and Aurelia (in her annotations), yet she demonstrates exceptional dramaturgy skills in arranging these words into an expansive tapestry of emotive and psychological intrigue that effuses sentiment, artistry and drama in one breathtaking swoop of a text. Overlaps, discordant undertones and a symmetry between mother and child add potency to Plath’s already inimitable use of language. As an elegy on maternal instinct, passionate ambition, and unspeakable loss, Plath and Goldemberg’s play is supremely readable and genuinely moving.

Rites (1969) by Maureen Duffy

I’m not having any man down here

Originally directed by Joan Plowright for the National Theatre in an effort to champion female playwrights, Duffy’s play sets its eye on a ladies’ toilets at a central London train station. It is of its time, purely from the facilities coming with an in-house attendant and cleaner, as well as an incinerator. However, I don’t think that Rites should be confined as a museum piece showing a classic example of a feminist play making the personal political. Two main reasons give the play more enduring appeal: it has echoes of a Greek tragedy (apparently mirroring The Bacchae although I’m not convinced) which gives it a classical structure; and the career-minded attendant Ada (Geraldine McEwan) reads as more modern than characters in any of Duffy’s contemporaries. Perhaps one of the reasons why it feels quite modern is that it’s set in a personal space isolated from men (although, interestingly, we do see a group of workmen build the set, thus creating this world). In what the visitors come to talk about, from sex and periods to secrets and quiet ambitions, there is an air of liberation. They may talk about men, and some of the characters may have devoted their lives to supporting a man, but in this drama we don’t feel that any of the characters are merely collateral for a man’s journey.

During the morning rush, the array of characters that come in demonstrates different and changing attitudes to sex and the role of women in marriage and the workplace. From the office girls wanting to escape their boss for the day, to the two old widows (“I cleaned his shoes for him every day of our life”), Rites is interested in women’s destinies not being determined by biology or the control of a man. Ada, however, has a degree of autonomy in her role. That is, until, the play takes a Greek tragic turn thus putting her promotion at risk. In her insistence that she’s not managed by a man, she is led into a troubling decision which some may feel complicates the play’s political message.

Trafford Tanzi (1980) by Claire Luckham

We can’t have no compromises, either you decide to be my wife… or off you trot

Trafford Tanzi follows the upbringing, personal life and making of a female champion boxer, the titular character. Quite prosaically told, each scene is introduced by a referee, with the players announced at the beginning and the ‘winner’ announced at the end. But the plot doesn’t matter, the telling of it is the more important and exciting bit. Played in a boxing ring, each scene becomes a literal battle of the sexes. The referee character, grandstanding as a cabaret club presenter, frames the play so its tone is the same as a boxing match, and the stage directions are dominated by wrestling terms: Irish whip, wristlock, ref’s hold, backhammer, head mare, single leg Boston to name but a few.

Trafford Tanzi culminates in a fight between her and her husband, the lesser Dean Rebel. In doing so, Tanzi is fighting for everything she believes in: if he wins, she plays the role of wife (as he sees it), complete with “apple pie on Sundays [and] afternoons in bed”. For Dean, Tanzi’s strength demoralises him and is incompatible with the stereotypical image of a wife. Both this and Rites concern themselves with appointed socially constructed roles and expectations. In what I imagine to be an entertaining piece of theatre to experience, the characters’ deliberate caricature nature lends itself to the comedy of the play, as well as satirises how strictly society sees (or at least how it has in the past seen) and demarcates gender roles.

All published by Methuen

Friday 26 April 2019

Top Girls

National Theatre, Lyttelton
13th April 2019, matinee

I believe in the individual. Look at me.

I’m coming to Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls (1982) afresh. Well, sort of. I read the play a few years ago, but I’ve not seen it and wasn’t born until 10 years after its original production at the Royal Court. To finally see it is to have many of the questions I had when reading it answered. I’ve read two main threads of criticism levelled against Lyndsey Turner’s production: firstly that it’s excessive and secondly that the play is now dated. I disagree with both. Turner has not chosen to double up actors, the effect of which is indeed a large cast. But one of the reasons for doubling in previous productions was to meet an economic necessity, something not necessarily an issue in an NT production. And so even if this production doesn’t benefit from the other effects of doubling, Turner and the National are quite rightly reclaiming this seminal play from Max Stafford-Clark’s production(s). The set design may also be described as excessive but more on that later. As for it being dated, yes Top Girls is a play of, set in and partly about the 1980s. But to claim that there’s been so much of a sea change that the issues raised are now obsolete would be a fallacy. A culture of greed, divisive politics and issues regarding the mixing of the personal and the professional speak to us just as much now. And even if they didn’t, to see a play of such formal brilliance where Churchill so lucidly captures the issues of the decade is more than enough. Churchill, like the women in the first act, is a trailblazer.

The first act is set on a Saturday night in a London restaurant, 1981. But among Marlene’s guests is the ill-fated Pope Joan, the 12th century Japanese concubine Lady Nijō, celebrated Victoria explorer Isabelle Bird (played with a no nonsense Yorkshire feistiness by Siobhán Redmond), a figure of folklore from a renaissance painting (the mostly silent but utterly watchable Ashley McGuire), and a character from the Canterbury Tales. (Wiki’s getting a lot of use tonight!) These women, from different times and different places, some only fabled, congregate here in this restaurant on a Saturday night to share their life stories with the recently promoted Marlene. It’s occasionally a difficult scene to follow: interruptions, simultaneous speech and no facile bits of exposition make it all the more beguiling. We hear their achievements, their turmoil and heartbreaks, how they made their own destinies but also were controlled by men. Turner orchestrates the scene very nicely, with each character appearing from a doorway as waitresses pass by not batting an eyelid. Culminating in Dull Gret’s monologue about Hell and death, the theatricality crescendos as the scene fades away into the abyss as Ian MacNeil’s set pulls back into the darkness.

The strangeness of this first act prepares us for peculiarities and anachronisms further on in the play. One of the big pushes in feminist theatre was to show that ‘the personal is political’. What Churchill does in Top Girls is to present a dichotomy between the personal and the professional. MacNeill’s design reflects division, evoking definite, solid, tangible worlds for the scenes in Suffolk compared to the more cosmic open spaces for the scenes set in London. The restaurant has a celestial mural fronted by a sunken space around the table, giving a sort of 80s restaurant-cum-Star Trek vibe. The recruitment agency’s office opens up the space even more, with a few desks, lights and walls marking out the space around which we can see the Lyttelton’s vast stage. There’s a different, more natural, aesthetic for the other scenes. The unused parts of the stage are closed off, and a lot of effort has gone into creating the feel of the countryside: the slate tiled floor, the wooden beams, the saucer of milk from the large milk bottle put outside the backdoor. They are two separate worlds and when characters cross boundaries from Suffolk to London or from London to Suffolk, they clash. Earlier, we completely accept that a female Pope from the Middle Ages, maybe real maybe not, is eating cannelloni in an 80s’ restaurant. But when a scruffy girl from Ipswich walks into the cosmopolitan, dazzling world of *Recruitment*, she doesn’t belong and we feel it as well. Likewise, when Marlene returns home (set a year earlier) in the third act, it’s a lifestyle – and a life – away from which she’s been trying to distance herself. Her destiny has not been determined by the society into which she was born, but at a cost. Place, then, plays an integral part of the political undercurrents in the play: where is moving forward and where has been left behind?

There is a plot which develops that recalls the some of the earlier themes of motherhood and autonomy in the stories from act one. Through Marlene choosing between motherhood and a career, defined in the play as belonging to two separate worlds, Top Girls is a blistering attack on the politics of the era. Of course those two worlds don’t have to be separate but they come to represent a divided country. Katherine Kingsley and Lucy Black give outstanding performances as sisters Marlene and Joyce respectively. Some might say they are mouthpieces for two sides of an argument, but they each flesh out their characters, creating sisters that have years of a love-hate relationship under their belts. Also very good is Liv Hill as Angie, falling behind and wanting something more but maybe not having the means or opportunities to do so.

Top Girls plays at the National Theatre until 20th July.

Katherine Kingsley, Amanda Lawrence, Ashley McGuire, Lucy Ellinson and Wendy Kweh in Top Girls. Credit: Johan Persson

Friday 19 April 2019

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Curve, Leicester
18th April, 2019

‘And until then we’ll have this time and this place’

Following Melly Still’s moving and visually stunning production of The Lovely Bones last year, I had high hopes for her latest literary adaptation, Louis de Bernières Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (1994). While I haven’t read the novel, it seems that Rona Munro has made a valiant effort in bringing what appears to be a particularly dense, episode laden tale that spans decades to the stage with coherence and lyricism. However, I found the production a little too segmented and erratic (especially in regards to establishing the central relationships).

De Bernières’ story focuses on the Italian occupation of Greece during the second world war, specifically the small island of Cephalonia. Soldiers set up camp with the locals, and the titular Captain (Alex Mugnaioni) is designated a bed with the resident physician, Dr Iannis (Joseph Long), and his disgruntled daughter, Pelagia (Madison Clare). It soon becomes clear that the Italians have little invested in the war and before long they become part of the small Greek community, especially Corelli, a keen musician and composer with a romantic outlook on life. After a series of barbed encounters the inevitable happens – Corelli and Pelagia fall for each other, but with the Germans now turned against the Italians the war threatens to come between the lovers for generations yet.

All this I recount is from the second act. Corelli only appears at the very end of the first act and preceding this there is a very drawn out build-up. Not to say that this backstory isn’t interesting – it is; focusing on the naivety of young boys going off to fight in a war they don’t understand, scrutinising the social customs of marriage and betrothal, and features a rather touching vignette of lost love between two Italian soldiers that evermore haunts our narrator, Carlo (Ryan Donaldson). My problem is that by soaking up so much of the running time with this expository first half, the second act feels underbaked in comparison. We are told that the romance between Corelli and Pelagia is ‘true’ and passionate (there’s a reason the novel is considered a modern classic), yet on stage Munro and Still manufacture a relationship based on merely a couple of pithy one-liners, an awkward entanglement in a web of string (bushes, a wood, perhaps?) and the lilting tremolo of the Captain’s cherished mandolin. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wholly convinced that this was the love story of the century. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Pelagia’s relationship with local soldier and partisan, Mandras (Ashley Gayle) felt more developed, complex and believable.

Still imposes a strong identity in her direction, the production features her trademark use of personified animals (George Siena gets the most from the cast, choreographing animalistic movement with great personality and warmth), rustic props and an ethereal tone to the treatment of life and death. Perhaps the greatest achievement lies in Mayou Trikerioti’s brutally beautiful set design. Lit from behind in a shroud of smoke, two immense sheets of metal loom over the playing space. Solid and robust, this centrepiece appears at once grounded, earthy and embellished by the rusty bloodshed of battle, before shifting with a change of light to a shimmering air, evoking the rustic yet breezy enchantment of Greek island life. Tangible, yet intangible, Trikerioti’s set is a work of art in and of itself.

While Munro and Still’s production didn’t set my heart aflame, the production is memorable (not least for a barnstorming performance from Eve Polycarpou – never has a woman wailed so enthusiastically!), playful, and I imagine does more justice to de Bernières work than the critically panned film from the early 2000s. And the mandolin music is rather lovely.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin plays at Curve, Leicester until 20th April followed by a UK tour.
For further tour details please visit: captaincorellismandolin.com
Madison Clare and Alex Mugnaioni in Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Credit: Marc Brenner 

Thursday 4 April 2019

Barber Shop Chronicles

Curve, Leicester
3rd April, 2019

‘A place for men to be men’

What makes a man? His appearance? His sexual prowess? His ancestry? His football allegiance? Under the amiable guise of shop banter and playful anecdotes Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles ponders some big questions. It’s a well-known stereotype – the barber shop being a watering hole for African communities; a place where men can gather to showboat, debate and share stories together – but Ellams’ play brims with joie de vivre and effuses a sense of comradery that reaches out and embraces its audience. We are welcomed into the barber shop with music, dancing and offers of complementary haircuts from the cast; teenagers took selfies, audience members showed off their signature moves, and everyone was greeted individually with a smile and a warm handshake. It’s a pretty electric atmosphere, and that’s before the play has even begun!

Set within a single day, but spanning continents, Chronicles is both a small scale story of individual friendship and a philosophically and socio-culturally epic anthropology narrative. Despite the brevity of timescale, there’s a strong sense of history running through the play, of generations-old traditions. The men discuss their families and their upbringing – debating cultural differences regarding corporal discipline; discussing their lives in Africa before emigrating to Britain – and scenes that span continents are linked via shared heritage and bloodlines; an uncle/son/brother spoken of in one scene pops up or is similarly referenced in the next.

Sports, politics, linguistics, sex – no topic is off limits as the men bond even while being stubborn and argumentative. They discuss the metamorphosis of language, mourning the lack of pidgin spoken nowadays, debate the offensive use of the ‘N’ word, and make jokes at the expense of weighty figures such as Nelson Mandela and Goodluck Jonathan. Yet for these men of numbered ages, that come from varying walks of life, holding disparate political views, they can always find common ground in the barber’s chair. Looking sharp and having the finest haircut is imperative. Whether it be for a job interview, an audition or a new date, the connection between physical appearance, feeling good and personal pride is unashamedly celebrated. However, the message remains that it is really the human bonding experience that boosts this self-confidence within the men. It’s a fascinating exploration of a very specific yet complex social microcosm.

Bijan Sheibani’s production is vibrant and full of motion – hairdressing gowns become dance props and the cast sing geographical lyrics to accompany scene changes. Rae Smith authentically replicates traditional barber shop store front signs, while the industrial-chic steel and neon globe adds a touch of carnival fun. The cast look to be having a blast, playing multiple characters, riffing off each other and fooling around with the audience. Stand outs include Demmy Ladipo’s turn as a wannabe lady’s man – superb and natural comic timing – Rudolphe Mdlongwa as an anglicised and politically liberal youngster, and Anthony Ofoegbu as a stoic veteran barber and sometime father figure to his customers.

Barber Shop Chronicles is a celebration of friendship, tradition and heritage. Ellams skilfully toes the line between sentiment, gaucheness, sincerity and wit while exploring issues of racial, social and gender identity with a keen eye for human foibles, contradictions in logic, and the need for communal beacons of hope - or even simple empathy - in times of crisis, no matter how small.

Barber Shop Chronicles plays at Curve, Leicester until 6th April.
For further tour details please visit: https://fueltheatre.com/projects/barber-shop-chronicles/
The cast of Barber Shop Chronicles.
Credit: Tim Trumble

Wednesday 3 April 2019

The American Clock

Old Vic, London
16th March, 2019

The main thing about The Depression is that it finally hit the white people

Arthur Miller’s plays seem to have eternal popularity. This year, productions of some of his major plays – All My Sons, Death of a Salesman and The Price – are being staged, the former of which is the Old Vic’s next production featuring a cast including Bill Pullman and Sally Field. The Old Vic has paired this with one of Miller’s lesser known plays, The American Clock. First staged in New York in 1980 (opening and closing in the same month), it’s not one of Miller’s finest. His sprawling view of Depression-era New York lacks potency, perhaps because of its lack of focus and (usually a Miller staple) plot, something not resolved in Rachel Chavkin’s production. Nevertheless, I was fully engaged by the production’s steady grip of the vaudeville style and atmosphere of the era.

Miller’s memoirs Timebends give an idea of the breadth and scope of Miller’s life. His depiction of growing up in New York surrounded by a large family is especially vivid. Miller himself, then, from living through that time and in that place brings authority to writing about the 1930s and the Crash’s effect on ordinary people. But Miller also draws on Studs Terkel’s Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression. There are occasional nods to this, most notably when characters address the audience with ‘This is what happened’-style asides. Perhaps this should give the play a flare of docudrama, perhaps to add to the authenticity, but it quickly loses conviction and can detract from the drama.

I keep reading this being described as a ‘kaleidoscopic social history’ play, but we only get a brief glimpse of the boom pre-1929. After that, Miller documents the breadth of the struggle: top floor hotel rooms being hired out for bankers to jump from, the average family having to pawn jewellery, the young aspirational having to put aside his dreams for something more practical. The realisation that there were a system which was now failing with widespread effect is reflected in this kaleidoscopic form. But rather than a panoramic view of America, it feels more localised to New York City. Yes, we see people threatened with lynching when trying to auction a farm, as well as someone’s trip to the South where they’d been experiencing the Depression all their lives. But most of the play seems to be split between Manhattan and Brooklyn, where peoples’ zeal for life is largely undeterred. Memorable characters include a Marxist cartoonist drawing Superman stripboards; and a wannabe Cole Porter, certain that he’s only one hit away from solving the family’s financial woes. It’s testament to Miller’s writing that this optimism still shines through, and that characters make an impression after only being in one or two scenes.

The anchor of the play though is the Baum family, the mother, father, son of whom are played here by trio of actors. The effect of this, I suppose, is to stress that their story is also the story of other families echoed across the cultural melting pot of New York City. But this decision lacks coherence. This is not because it’s unclear that they’re playing members of the same family because it is. But by adding to the multitude of voices and characters, maybe it dilutes the drama. But then again, some of the most memorable scenes are also the most fleeting. But when much of the play is sprawling, some of it perhaps superfluous, I was yearning for the classic Miller nuclear family.

But the production remains enjoyable: Justin Ellington’s score is brought to life by a jazz trio, and Chloe Lamford’s design, which also incorporates audience members at the back of the stage, emphasises the Vaudeville element, further helped by Ann Yee’s choreography. But just as the country actually belonged to the people in these times, this production belongs to its cast, all bringing a pep and zeal to the show that brings hope to hopeless times.

The American Clock played at the Old Vic until 30th March
the cast of The American Clock.
Credit: Manuel Harlan.

Tuesday 2 April 2019

#ReadaPlayaWeek - March

Stamping, Shouting and Singing Home (1986), by Lisa Evans

“Jesus was born from God and a woman.

Man had nothin’ to do with it”

Evans’ play tackles race tensions during the time of segregation in the American Deep South of the mid-twentieth century. Young Lizzie Walker is a headstrong but naïve girl raised by her mother in the shadow of her great-grandmother, Sojourner Truth, a rebellious slave and Christian Feminist. While Lizzie contemplates the teachings of the bible and the contradictory interpretations made by those in power her sister, Marguerite, begins to take a stand against the wealthy white family she works for and becomes increasingly active in the Civil Rights movement.

Evans intersperses scenes with snippets of traditional songs of freedom and has her characters dress up as ancestors, white women and preachers from a prop box on stage. This gives the text a theatricality that often doesn’t come across through reading alone. I found the biblical debates fascinating, especially the skewering of the concept that man’s downfall is fated by woman/women (aka Eve in the Garden of Eden). Evans contemplates these theological and philosophical inequalities with humour and poise.

Published by Methuen.


Night (L’Homme Gris) (1984), by Marie Laberge (translated by Rina Fraticelli)

 “What have I ever done to you?”

Laberge’s play is a taught two-hander that imposes a creeping sense of unease amidst the mundane setting of a homely motel room. Roland has made the long journey to collect his mute daughter, Christine, in order to bring her home to visit her sick mother. A storm has interrupted the drive home, and in the confined space of the twin motel room a psychological thriller unfolds.

Night explores the lifelong impact parents have upon their children and the ways that people use and abuse this most complex of relationships. We learn that Roland’s mother was an alcoholic – an addiction he nursed and abetted while being so ashamed of his roots that kept it secret from his entire family until now. Christine married young and Roland believes she needs rescuing from her violent husband. Twisted ideals and nauseating dreams of lost innocence and perfection make for uncomfortable reading. Laberge has a skilful way of upending our perceptions – nothing is as it initially seems and she manages to shock until the final brutal seconds. Intense, prosaic, and a masterclass in the cruelties of passive aggression, Night shows just how gripping a small but deadly intimate play can be.

Published by Methuen.


Unicorns, Almost (2018) by Owen Sheers.

“Time's wrong-way telescope will show

a minute man ten years hence

and by distance simplified"

Sheers' one man play is a tribute to the little known WWII poet Keith Douglas, who initially fought in the Egyptian desert before being killed in Normandy. He was only 24 years old. Douglas wasn't an established poet and his only collection of poems was published after his death. So what is so remarkable about the play is how it manages to distil so much of Douglas' voice and life from such a small body of work, while remaining so eloquently written. The text is economical in its turn of phrase (the sentences tend to be short, often limited to a thought per line), like Douglas' poetry. But, again as with Douglas, substance dominates style, and a full-bodied character emerges in this young man as we see him figure out his way through love, war and poetry.

Death hangs over Douglas' life, which (as Sheers notes in the introduction) lends the play a natural theatricality. Just as Douglas describes soldiers as 'Actors waiting in the wings of Europe' watching 'the lights on the stage', he is also aware of his own final curtain, leaving him with a pressure to struggle with his craft to write something which will outlive him. The play is mostly a diary to capture his inner contradictions about the horrors of war and the frustrations of poetry. He literally seeks war, stealing a van to drive to the frontline, but at the same time hates the violence and the romanticising of it - there are no patriotic inklings in him. And unlike his more established peers back in Soho who says his work lacks musicality, he wants to reflect a truer experience.

The Douglas poem which closes the play begins 'Remember me when I'm dead/ and simplify me when I'm dead'. Sheers brings Douglas’ work and life to the fore in a way which commits to finding the depths of this poet.

Published by Faber and Faber.


buckets (2015) by Adam Barnard

"But you've kind of killed the spontaneity by explaining it so much, haven't you?"

33 interconnected scenes performed by a non-stipulated number of people make up Barnard's Churchillian play. And so part of the joy (and the play is a joy) is that you find yourself playing director. Are these characters new or have we seen them before? How many are there in this scene? How do these characters know each other? Could this go here? Do we have to end with The End? In these 33 scenes, some merely a line or two long, Barnard crashes together moments in a life. Some of them are small and inconsequential, everyday occurrences: a Facebook update or meeting someone new. But some are bigger, more memorable, moments that you would dread. He then observes the minutiae of these moments, exploring the phenomenological and thought processes, the little moments of life's big moments. A play with few (if any) rules which squeezes the most out of each scene.

Standout scenes include a hastily-decided bungee skydive, and a terminally ill teenager blackmailing a popstar to kiss them. And it includes a great pre-script note.

Published by Nick Hern Books.


Victory Condition (2017) by Chris Thorpe

“All these impulses, conscious and unconscious, faster than thought”

Like with buckets, the text for Victory Condition is a starting point, a suggestion of how it can be performed. Thorpe gives us two monologues (one by a man, one a woman) followed by a dialogue. It’s suggested that the dialogue does close the play but other than that the monologues can be intercut with each other. Dotted lines split the monologues up into separate thoughts, again a suggestion for pauses or a new part of the monologue to begin. If the performance options for both plays are not endless, then there certainly are many possibilities for them.

Thorpe also gives us a naturalistic set (an apartment overlooking a city at sunset) and defines a situation (a couple returning home from their holiday: unpacking, making a drink, cooking, not cooking, ordering a takeaway, going to bed) as a backdrop for the monologues – or a series of actions to help inform performance decisions.

Other than that, I’m stuck as to what to say. It’s a play which is fascinatingly elliptical and at times dense with ideas. The woman’s monologue in particular is amazingly structured, jumping from idea to idea with nothing but a comma in the way and yet maintaining clarity. The ideas are expressed lucidly but we are awash with them. In her monologue, the focus of one moment is on herself, her immediate and recognisable surroundings, then jumping to wider global and societal ideas – ideas which can go from people drinking coffee in Johannesburg to the embryonic stage of a future genius in Mexico City to an eagle catching a fish. Again, like with buckets, it’s a play which in both its performance options and its ideas is interested in immense possibilities.

It's a play to be seen, to be read, to be re-read and re-seen. The meta-theatrical dialogue which captures and skewers the often easy metaphors and endings in plays is entertaining and typical of the play’s hunger to think bigger and ask more questions.

Published by Oberon Books.