Tag Archives: Defibrillator

“Sunnymead Court” at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Gemma Lawrence’s new play, impeccably directed by James Hillier, is a love story set during lockdown. References to the recent hot – and a bit boring – summer abound. Lawrence conveys the frustrations and problems of this period, notably working from home. Impressive detail includes a character moving back to her family… and her homophobic parent.

Love across the balconies of a London estate adds charm and hope. The obstacles faced by two women are surmounted by humour, drama and a dash of chance. The characters grab your sympathy straight away, impressively, for different reasons. They make great roles for Lawrence as Marie, who is joined by Remmie Milner as Stella, whose complementary energy makes a neat contrast.

My heart sank at first, as Marie starts out with her back to the audience staring at a computer. I didn’t come into the theatre (even one so welcoming, thanks to its lovely staff) to stare at a screen! But Lawrence’s close study of Marie’s anxiety is cleverly developed and has a relevance far beyond our current conditions.

Marie takes to isolation dangerously easily. Living online, and working too much, her relationship to her own body (from food consumed to routines followed) becomes troubled. Stella sees the problem, too: technology means we can “hide ourselves in our pockets”, while a joyous scene of dancing has Milner conveying the thrill of a “full” body experience. All this is, surely, a trend lockdown has exacerbated, rather than created. That debate aside, Lawrence highlights a concerning mental health trend with heartfelt sensitivity.

Importantly, for theatre lovers at least, is how this relationship to the body is conveyed on stage. With the actors apparently controlling Will Monks’ lighting, both become increasingly physically involved in the performance of the story. From glances at one another – anxious then often cheeky – to more and more movement, a sense of complicity is skilfully developed.

Lawrence uses her characters’ anxieties, and the problems of our times, to create a story that should appeal long after this summer is over.

Until 3 October 2020

www.actorscentre.co.uk

Photo by Jack Holden

"A Lie of the Mind" at the Southwark Playhouse

Sam Shepard’s award-winning 1985 play is a slow-burning, haunting family drama. After a brutal act of domestic violence, Beth is left brain damaged and her husband Jake unhinged. Their families, aiming to care for them, become increasingly irrational, unlocking the play’s momentum and considerable dramatic power.
Gethin Anthony and Alexandra Dowling acquit themselves well as Jake and Beth. These are difficult roles and the temptation for shrillness isn’t fully controlled. Shepard is averse to sentimentality and makes it a struggle to empathise with these damaged figures. Nonetheless, Anthony and Dowling convey their characters as repositories of cumulative pain.

Gethin Anthony, Mike Lonsdale and Alexandra Dowling
Gethin Anthony, Mike Lonsdale and Alexandra Dowling

The couple’s siblings have problems too. Initially overshadowed by Jake’s instability, his brother and sister, played by Michael Fox and Laura Rogers, do well to build their roles, acting as foils for the increasing oddity around them. Meanwhile, Robert Lonsdale gives a cracking performance as Beth’s consoling and then avenging brother. Caught up in a maelstrom of metaphor, Lonsdale gives the role clarity.
Best of all are the older characters, portrayed with conviction and welcome humour by a skilled trio so that the play’s dated gender relations create fewer snags here. Shepard is too sophisticated to blame the parents for the sins or woes of the children, but a legacy of emotional repression is clear. Nancy Crane and Kate Fahy play the mothers – far too keen to have their kids back at home and infantilised. John Stahl gives a strong performance as Beth’s irascible father, whose tirade against ageing is one of the play’s finest moments.
Marshalling all this – and it’s a lot – is James Hillier’s direction. Some of Shepard’s dark humour isn’t transmitted and a firmer hand on histrionics with a little more work on accents would be welcome. But Hillier has created a stylish show, aided by live music from James Marples. The production appreciates Shepard’s extremes, giving his Americana a back seat to examine the topical subject of mental health. It’s a solid revival of a fascinating play.
Until 27 May 2017
www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
Photos by Lidia Crisafulli

"The Hotel Plays" at the Grange Holborn Hotel

Tennessee Williams spent so much of his later life living in and writing about hotels that staging his plays in one seems so obvious, so very neat, that it’s instantly appealing. Site-specific theatre has to be special stuff to excite, and this thrilling trilogy of short works does just that at the Grange Holborn Hotel.
The Hotel PlaysGreen Eyes, The Travelling Companion and Sunburst – afford glimpses into tawdry, lonely lives: a young couple arguing on their honeymoon, an ageing homosexual writer with his unwilling escort, and an elderly lady held hostage in her room by staff turned ineffectual thieves. Being late works by Williams, they are peopled by extreme characters and bold to the point of being blunt.

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Clare Latham and Matt Milne

These are difficult roles to pull off (and unfortunately the accents prove too much of a challenge) but all the cast manage to establish their characters with commendable speed. John Guerrasio does particularly well as what is surely a merciless self-portrait by Williams – a “much too much” homosexual writer with a camp performance that has an eye on the stereotype the author must have seen himself becoming. His co-star, Laurence Dobiesz, also impresses as a fragile hustler who becomes intoxicated during the short duration of the play. But the best and bravest performances come in the first work, with Clare Latham and Matt Milne playing newlyweds acting out trauma with a sado-masochistic twist.
The Grange Holborn Hotel may not be the most charismatic property, but all credit to its farsighted management for cooperating with the Defibrillator Theatre Company. Staging the plays in the hotel adds immeasurably to them. Performed in rotation, you can hear the arguments from one as you sit in the room above watching another, with careful supervision from a trio of directors (James Hillier, Anthony Banks and Robert Hastie) who embrace the claustrophobia of the setting. This evening of morbidly powerful vignettes is captivating theatre – incredibly intimate and excruciatingly voyeuristic.
Until 27 October 2012
Photo by Simon Annand
Written 9 October 2012 for The London Magazine