Andrew Maddock is one of my favourite new writers. He seems to focus on people, rather than characters and stories over storylines. His new play He(art), produced by Lonesome Schoolboy , is about four people and two stories.
The play opens in an art gallery with Alice (Alex Reynolds), who is clearly a bit posh, did art history and works in the gallery and Rhys (Jack Gogarty), a window cleaner with a heart condition. I struggled to warm to them as a couple, it wasn’t due to the class differences but Gogarty’s monotone performance and Reynolds was left carrying any emotion. It was an odd decision, which I assume was intentional, as nothing in the script suggested he was cold and emotionless. He is an intelligent man, who happens to have a heart problem and Alice is understandably more worried than him but he just seemed dead to everything. Even their discussion about the merits (or lack of) of a Banksy are treated like Gogarty just doesn’t care. It is a waste of the intricate character development Maddock has put in to Rhys.
The other storyline involves Kev (Shane Noone) and his sister, Sam (Flora Dawson). Out of the two stories this seemed the most rounded with Dawson’s vulnerable and lonely Sam delighted to have her brother back and who has been drawn into a scheme out of sheer love for him and their mother after a tough childhood. I particularly enjoyed Noone, who reminded me of Paddy Considine in look and performance. His character showed more vulnerability than Gogarty’s.
It sadly falls apart when these stories collide. I don’t want to spoil too much but I found myself internally screaming “ARGH! Why are they doing that, nothing over the last 50 minutes suggested that”. Endings are hard and it isn’t badly written or even badly directed by Niall Phillips (who has designed the amazingly simple but genius set) in the small space but it feels contrived as a scenario and takes it from a 4 star (if this blog did stars) to 3, which is a real shame.
He(art) at Theatre N16 until 28 January (excl. Sundays and Mondays)
Vantage Point, a company made up of recent Royal Central School of Speech and Drama’s graduates work in progress show, This Might Be It, has real potential to work as a production if the various strands were developed as separate productions rather than one serious sketch show.
The audience is welcomed by two of the performers reciting various facts and comments about loneliness and technology. What strikes me about a lot of theatre recently (The Nether, The Sewing Group) is this rejection of not just what technology can do but the modern world in general. There seems to be this rejection of the technology, particularly AI and social media, from young people who hark back to the days where people spoke to each other.
Only one segment seems to really feel part of the synopsis; the character played wonderfully by Gabriele Lombardo as a man dealing with grief and comforting himself with an AI robot companion/girlfriend, mainly because of Emma Lundegaard’s Humans style robot acting but the rest of the pieces seem baffling and poorly thought out in comparison.
Julie (Sundi Scott) is a motivational speaker about the human condition of loneliness with a depressed husband (Matthew Coulton) who has has an affair with Matthew Churcher’s character. Bart Suarek is a lonely, Polish cleaner. It isn’t just that these pieces are underdeveloped but they feel like poor filler for an interesting story that could be an hour long piece on its own.
Emilio Iannucci (Yes he is the son of…) is musician as well as a character in a sketch that works as a comedy piece but feels really out of place here. It fits the subject of loneliness (a young man obsessed with a donut seller but he is too shy to say hello) and has a cute finale as Iannucci is adorable (I used to have a crush on Armando back in the day) but I definitely feel that Iannucci Jr has little interest in the serious drama of his Vantage Point team and instead would rather be doing character comedy in Edinburgh in summer 2017.
There’s some lovely choreography and with time this could be a stunning piece of theatre that makes the audience think about how much they depend on technology and their relationship with other adults (I know I find it very easy to delve into the online world and avoid actual people) but it needs a lot of fine tuning and I think they were held back by the venue, which when full doesn’t provide its audience with a full view of what is going on.
Edited: Due to incorrect actors names, now corrected.
Riot Act’s production of Lunatic, a new gothic play by Whit Hertford and Robert J. Gibbs, based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is an intriguing yet slightly overwrought look at a modern relationship between Dr. Seward and his psychiatric patient, Renfield, both based on Stoker’s characters of the same names. Renfield begins to hear a “Slavic voice” in his head, who compels him to eat and drink the blood of living things. His disturbing ravings begin to have a strong psychological effect on Dr. Seward, forcing him to question his definition of sanity, and wonder whether this voice could be more than just the invention of a troubled mind.
The exploration of the relationship and power dynamic between the doctor and the patient makes up the most coherent and engaging parts of the play. The evening begins to go off the rails as it incorporates more literal paranormal elements. Renfield’s psychotic internal struggles with Dracula go on for too long, and the use of a cartoonish Transylvanian accent makes it all very difficult to take seriously. In general the play would have been more effective if it had been about 20 minutes shorter (it ran about 1 hour and 35 minutes, which is, in fact, 15 minutes longer than the front-of-house staff told me it would be). After a while the play becomes tiresome and one-note; the mysterious haunting quality we feel at the beginning fades away, and the triteness in the writing starts to become more evident. The introduction of a new character late in the play is not as compelling as it could have been, and seemed to contribute to the unnecessary length. I won’t spoil the play’s final moment, but it seemed to me, at the end of the evening, to be somewhat laughable in its shock-seeking gratuitousness.
The acting and the direction were mostly very strong, given the circumstances. Whit Hertford’s direction utilizes the beautiful, old space to its advantage, and Ben Jacobs’ use of lighting and sparse scenic design served the story well. The inclusion of grotesque video footage projected onto a screen, however, seemed to be aiming for an effect that didn’t quite land.
The two main actors are both well cast; Justin Stahley effectively captures Dr. Seward’s transformation from level-headed and slightly awkward, to broken, unstable and distraught. Chris Spyrides’ portrayal of Renfield is fascinating and disturbing, though it loses its striking effect over the course of the play, perhaps relying a bit too much on histrionics.
All in all, the piece plays with some compelling ideas, and boldly takes Bram Stoker’s characters into a modern context. Some may find it to be a good dose of creepiness to get them in the Halloween spirit. However, it ranges from haunting and intriguing, to cliché and wearisome to watch. It was a telling moment when, at the very end of the play, the audience were so bewildered that an usher had to begin the applause.
By Joseph Weinberg
Misprint Theatre, based in Croydon, transfers its production of Possibilities to Balham’s N16 Theatre.
Kate Gwynn as Laura (Performer)
The production, written by and starring Jamal Chong with Kate Gwynn was originally produced at Theatre Utopia and it is the very simple story of a couple, looking back at scenes of their relationship and where it all went wrong. It’s short running time (one act of 45 minutes) means it cannot afford to get too complex (though I was unsure if this was a series of short scenes that were ‘Sliding Doors’ based or just a non-linear look at a relationship)
Jamal Chong as David (Writer, director, performer)
It is a poignant and charming piece and I hope Chong, who is already being proactive in what can be a difficult industry and running both the company and creating work, is a real talent. Despite its unoriginal premise there is something fresh and intriguing about this play simply because it will reasonate with a lot of people. The performances are really strong and Gwynn in particular is a real talent. She can find her character’s moods and pain really easily (a scene set in a hospital after a miscarriage is an incredibly strong piece of work). The actors also have great chemistry but as strong as it is there still feels something missing, I think the non-linear approach can be confusing; there’s a scene where they are talking about the character coming out as gay and there was no warning this was going to happen. It feels too unpolished.
If seen as a work in progress that Possibilities has a lot of potential, even if this story isn’t developed into something longer it is great to see the N16 based used to develop new work and new talents, an area that seems shut off in the West End. If Misprint Theatre/Theatre Utopia are producing any works near you I would recommend giving them a chance as it is clear that with time they will be producing some really interesting and engaging work.
In this play of two parts Robert Crighton’s production has mixed results. The first half is a lecture by Professor Ashborn, an academic looking at the theories surrounding authorship. What begins as an informative evening descends into Ashborn’s personal chaos, an ex-wife, a tweed and leather patch illuminati and his late mother’s terrifying china dolls. It is a simple set up and Crighton as Ashborn has a rich voice (reminding me of Bertie Carvel) and it is a confident performance that just failed to engage, perhaps because of its short running time (though this doesn’t exclude a lot of filler in the run up to the dramatic finale) the tone of the piece changes so suddenly that the audience isn’t sure what this is. The Shakespeare element that Crighton has publicised this show on seems mostly irrelevant and a convenient way of getting an audience in.
There are some highlights, such as his section on Mary Sidney and the recurring gag that Two Gentlemen of Verona is dreadful but any warmth Crighton gained from the audience in the first half soon disappears in the second half of this production.
At best the inclusion of the Shakespeare: The Ever Living! Is misguided, at worst damn right indulgent. The best way to describe it is as a section on a Open Mic comedy night for new acts but even a new act would realise this part, mostly about Crighton and his love of 80s cartoons but with a Shakespeare séance thrown in to make it relevant to the theme, just doesn’t work and would stop it immediately. Bizarrely it is 50 minutes of Crighton getting no laughs and doing an act that is a poor combination of Eddie Izzard and Robin Ince.
There is a section on Thundercats but the audience is either too old or too young to get it so Crighton spends what feels like 10-15 minutes just explaining what Thundercats is. An audience expecting jokes about Shakespeare and the reaction to 400th anniversary of his death would be extremely disappointed to come to a theatre and get a poor and unfunny 50-minute set. Ironically Crighton talks about the many revivals of old plays, films and television shows stating that audiences do not want new things. Who can blame an audience for finding comfort in the old and familiar if this is the new material we are supposed to enjoy. The irony is that the Shakespeare sections are repetitive and dull. It is very telling, after the confident first half, that Crighton barely makes eye contact with us in the second.
Undead Bard is on at N16 Theatre (The Bedford, Balham) until 13 October
NB: To add insult to injury Crighton directs us to his website and talks about his production where Shakespeare is accused of being a paedophile (like a 17th century Jimmy Savile) and the reaction to it. it sounds much better production then what I saw.