Tag Archives: Barons Court Theatre

“Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons” at the Barons Court Theatre

If the idea of seeing a dystopian drama, where the Government limits the number of words we use per day, gets the short answer from you, then you’ve made a good call on this occasion. But dismissing Sam Steiner’s drama as silly, or contrarian to the point of being crass, is too easy. The play is ambitious and adventurous, as its awards and success on the fringe indicate. And this production from First Floor Presents demands that we take it seriously, earning respect as a result. Unfortunately, the play’s targets – while one of the few clear things about this confusing piece – are missed by a long way.

Let’s leave aside any practicalities about the “hush law” imposed on the populace. Steiner isn’t interested in how or why and that’s his prerogative, even if it frustrates an audience. But the lack of detail makes it hard to examine one major theme of the play – that of protest. Surely the facts of what’s happened and what people do next are needed? We get a march or two and that’s all. Simultaneously, we are presented with the history of a relationship, which we see grow and put under pressure through a lack of communication. The problem is that the couple in question have troubles without a cap on words. It’s too hard to see them together from the get go. And here there’s too much happening – an affair, a slim back story, their sex and work lives, and a pet cemetery, for some reason – all raced through breathlessly. It’s tough to warm to them and, although the scenario is nightmarish enough, it is difficult to care.

It’s all something of a pity, as the two performers here do a good job. Charlie Suff makes for an amenable presence who ably delivers the humour of the piece. Jemima Murphy has a harder job as his neurotic girlfriend, but brings a compelling intensity to the role. The couple as written are pretty tiresome and don’t seem too bright, but it’s clear Murphy and Suff have worked phenomenally hard and their focus is impressive. Well done to both of them.

Director Hamish Clayton has made a similarly close study of the play. He brings variety to the pace of the scenes and exacts a sense of paranoid tension. But, like Steiner, he seems enamoured of the play’s oddities – “tricks” devised to use words wisely (and no, learning sign language isn’t one of them) that are left unexplained for too long, or interminably going back and forth in time. The tiny scenes and repetition, presumably designed to create tension, make this short play seem very long. That the characters reduce their speech and contract their sentences with such pain, and at such cost to comprehension, is clever but becomes excruciatingly laboured. Go see? Um, no.

Until 27 May 2019


Photo by Maximilian Clarke

“Realife TV” at the Barons Court Theatre

This solid and serious new play from Ian Buckley is tightly directed by Anthony Shrubsall. Tackling the subject of domestic violence through the prism of a documentary filmmaker, the play works best as a suspenseful thriller, uncovering the past of an initially charming psychogenic amnesiac. More cerebrally, Buckley aims at big issues surrounding the reporting of crime.

An incredible story, inspired by true events, the tension builds well. Clearly, a man recovering his identity would make good TV. It’s a shame that the lead character, an investigative journalist played commendably by Roseanna Frascona, is too well meaning and naïve to be credible. Likewise her creepy, clichéd TV producer (oh, go on then, maybe he is believable) is an unhappily clunky role for Alex Jonas. The debate is truncated and the characters sometimes flat.

The victims – labelling them as such indicates the central dynamic within the piece – are more interesting. Katrina Cooke fleshes out her character marvellously and similarly detailed work from Fed Zanni creates a husband and wife we care about. Estranged by a traumatic event, carefully revealed by Buckley, the TV cameras lead them to relive it and the result is tragic. The impeccably performed finale grips. This one scene is the germ of a play that could have been grown further, given the fertile ground here, but the piece impresses as it stands.

Until 29 May 2016

Call 020 8932 4747 for tickets

“That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” at the Barons Court Theatre

”Fame, fame, fatal fame.” Morrissey’s desire for celebrity, which he sang about in 1985, is one now widely embraced. The Smiths singer imagined embellishing his autobiography in order to boost his creative credentials. Is this a step many of us would make in order to acquire fame? And if we did this, what would the toll be on our loved ones and ourselves?

Michael Ross’s new play, That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore, poses this question of how we narrate our life stories with intelligence and wit. Mark Elias plays Leon Shepherd, a stand-up comedian driven to the edge of sanity while waiting for his big break. Elias conveys his desperation and then astonishment as a series of figures begin to appear from his wardrobe to perform their own stand-up routines.

These ghosts from his past are presented to him by Pete Picton, a delightfully Faustian figure who poses as an experienced comedian and clearly thinks little of Leon’s efforts, despite his own jokes coming from another age. He introduces Leon’s mother (Sacha Walker) and drama teacher (Isabel Carr), whose performances as radical feminist and visionary pedagogue are well-observed caricatures.

Both women seem to have left a scar but, as the plot thickens, we learn that Leon may have a darker secret. The next guest is his old partner Jimmy. Julian Farrance plays the role as a foil to Leon. He possesses the confidence Leon lacks and, while his comedy routine plays around with the truth, he has a sincerity that makes us question his old partner’s story. It’s a suspicion confirmed as Tony Rowden’s Inspector of Police arrives to cap off the wonderfully surreal proceedings – let’s just say a glove puppet is involved.

This is a well-constructed and thought provoking play. At only an hour long, it leaves you wanting more with a resolution that seems too short. There is great ambition here – it takes courage to write and perform consciously bad jokes that will unsettle an audience. Ross’s knowing remarks about the construction of comedy and performance show us we are in safe hands though. There is a sensitive, somewhat maudlin touch here that leaves a lasting impression.

Until 23 May 2010

Photo by Radjan Wahera

Written 19 May 2010 for The London Magazine