Tag Archives: Gemma Lawrence

“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

"As You Like It" at the National Theatre

The usurping Duke Frederick’s court is a surveillance state in director Polly Findlay’s new production of Shakespeare’s comedy. The colourful but cumbersome office setting thankfully disappears when our heroines, Rosalind and Celia, escape the city – chairs and desks ascend, transforming into the Forest of Arden. Lizzie Clachan’s Cornelia-Parker-inspired vision is a breath-taking use of the Olivier auditorium – a design to applaud.
The forest, brilliantly lit by Jon Clark, is sinister and cold, but romance is at the heart of the show, ensured by strong performances from the young cast. Rosalie Craig is captivating as Rosalind, with an immaculate transformation into her disguise as a man, while Joe Bannister matches her in appeal as a boyish, modern Orlando. Patsy Ferran makes a strong Celia and the two women’s relationship is satisfyingly explored. All three leads are on top of Shakespeare’s comedy, making this a production of big laughs rather than the usual small smiles. Joining in, Gemma Lawrence is an energetic Phebe, Mark Benton a convivial Touchstone and there’s a superb cameo by Siobhán McSweeney as his love interest, Audrey.
Findlay has no shortage of ideas. A choir fills the forest with music and bold sound effects; Orlando Gough’s score buoys the whole show. A scene where the vast cast perform as sheep in Arran jumpers is memorable – flirting fills the flock, too. The “shade of melancholy boughs”  the forest casts is probed with style but unfortunately this leaves Paul Chahidi’s Jacques making less of impact. There is also a big problem in the production’s notable lack of tension. Some suspense is sacrificed for laughs (that Orlando’s wrestling match is a Mexican one means he is never in danger) while both Dukes suffer from roles that feel truncated and a little flat. Findlay’s forest looks great and her take on the play is fresh, but journeying into these woods isn’t as interesting as it should be.
Until 5 March 2016
www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
Photo by Johan Persson