Tag Archives: Christopher Nairne

“Boy Parts” at the Soho Theatre

Gillian Greer’s adaptation of Eliza Clark’s novel has a lot to offer – above all a fantastic solo performance from Aimée Kelly. Tension is crammed into the story of a disturbed art photographer, who may be or may not be a serial killer. Not a moment of its 80 minutes is dull. I’m just not sure Boy Parts as challenging as it should be.

Kelly makes our antiheroine Irina hold attention with an acerbic tongue and plenty of extreme views. There’s no doubt about her contempt for people, and her lust for the young men she shoots is uncomfortable to watch. Kelly handles the script’s dark humour with considerable control – and then the next moment gives you goosebumps.

Yet, do Irina’s mental health problems make the play too easy? We are never sure if the dark fantasies are really enacted. Or what role self-medication in the form of drink and alcohol plays. An unreliable narrator can be a great device but, in a one-person show, other perspectives are especially tricky. Maybe the ideas are disturbing enough. But is there the danger we dismiss Irina?

The twist of having a female photographer exploiting men is an interesting one, especially the question about the very possibility of her being a threat. The chills are here, the language visceral. But there’s a snag again. We might wonder how much the work is being shaped by a curator Irina wants to please – and, of course, this gallery owner is a man. And many ideas feel rushed. That Irene dismisses her personal security, her self-esteem, even being abused, all shock – how could they not? – but each needs expanding on.

The production itself is strong. Sara Joyce’s direction is firm, and the show looks great. Peter Butler’s set recalls an exhibition space and benefits the video work from Hayley Egan. The whole show is aided by Christopher Nairne’s cinematic lighting design. But, with all this, we’re moving into the territory of style over substance. Boy Parts is crammed and yet feels fleeting. The show has great moments but doesn’t add up to much.

Until 25 November 2023


Photo by Joe Twigg

“Suzy Storck” from the Gate Theatre

It’s never comfortable to fall back on critical clichés, especially when a show is kindly offered during current circumstances, but one is applicable to this production. Although its merits are clear, Magali Mougel’s play, rendered into English by Chris Campbell, is surely lost in translation.

As the titular character struggles with her claustrophobic life – and three children she never wanted to have – there’s a strong tension between post-natal depression and, well, depression full stop. Such a bold look at the expectations and “obligations” women face is bracing. The outcome is not for the faint of heart. And, if the plot is simple, the play’s structure enlivens it enough.

The title role provides a strong part for Caoilfhionn Dunne, who grabs it for its considerable worth and doesn’t allow excuses for her character’s actions. While the role of her husband is less well written, Jonah Russell makes him intriguing. Director Jean-Pierre Baro has clearly worked hard on the scenes of the couple together and these provide highlights.

It’s with two accompanying characters that cracks start to show. Kate Duchêne gets the chance to shine when she performs as Suzy’s infuriated and vicious mother, Madame Storck. But when Duchêne also narrates, and is joined in this task by Theo Solomon, the play’s style starts to grate. Although both Duchêne and Solomon have a strong stage presence, it isn’t clear what these roles add.

Baro’s production has atmosphere (aided by some strong lighting design from Christopher Nairne) and there’s a great moment where the audience helps clear up kids’ toys. But Mougel’s obsession with routine, reflected in quantifying action and an interesting take on muscle memory, leads to too much repetition. The only scene with any humour is of a job interview (another small role that Duchêne does well with), and the constant use of the characters’ full names seems a puzzling affectation. The strange staccato delivery of some lines, presumably also linked to an obsession with repetition, is arresting but again overused and effortful. Suzie Storck ends up intense but also, painfully, self-conscious.

Until 30 June 2020


“Tumulus”at the Soho Theatre

Theatre can never have enough thrillers for my liking so playwright Christopher Adams’ trip into my favourite genre is welcome. Setting his murder mystery amidst the sleazy ‘chem sex’ scene makes it topical. Touching themes of addiction and ageism make it serious. And movement director Natasha Harrison’s work should please a theatre crowd. But at heart Tumulus is a good thriller; with a solid plot, that unfolds nicely, and satisfying twists and turns, it makes for a hugely entertaining hour.

Let’s not knock the show’s arty touches. Sound effects are mostly provided by the cast – radio drama style – while minimal props are moved around balletically. It all adds atmosphere, by turns appropriately noirish and drug induced, as well as giving the cast a chance to shine. And director Matt Steinberg never allows the powerful sound and lighting design (from Christopher Nairne and Nick Manning respectively) to overwhelm the story. A dead body has been found on Hampstead Heath, dismissed by all as an overdose – part of an epidemic affecting young gay men – but the victim’s kind-of-boyfriend, Anthony, has his suspicions.

Harry Lister Smith

The clever twist lies with our unusual amateur detective who drives the show with his narration. Anthony, played with vigour and intelligence by Ciarán Owens, has demons and flaws as all sleuthing heroes must and they are depicted viscerally here. Addicted to drugs, slowly realizing how much the young man he was occasionally seeing meant to him, hallucinations are the instigation to his investigation. Ghostly visitations add a spooky edge to the show, made effective by the performance from Harry Lister Smith. He plays the ghost of the first victim, another former partner of Antony’s and a further young man in danger, flipping roles with consummate skill. The same technique, and ability, is seen with Ian Hallard’s performance of even more characters as he jumps between being a therapist, different party guests and even a dog walker who found the body. Hallard distinguishes each role carefully and makes the whole thing look effortless thereby aiding Steinberg’s success in keeping the whole show tight and speedy.

Ian Hallard

There’s still more to praise as Tumulus is also a funny play. Humour and suspense are a tricky combination and Adams does falter at times with a little too much repetition and a search for lyricism he doesn’t quite master. But with keen observations the laughs focusing on London life, which nicely root the action in time and place, are impressive. Hallard has some lovely comic touches and Owens a wryness around his character’s pretentions that adds depth. This take on the gumshoe anti-hero is compulsive stuff with careful nods to tradition that prove witty as well as aiding tension. Adams has a thorough knowledge of the genre – that includes the necessity for novelty – and he delivers. On all counts Tumulus adds up a great show.

Until 4 May 2019


Photos by Darren Bell