Tag Archives: Gethin Anthony

“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

“Ditch” at the Old Vic Tunnels

As The London Magazine’s resident theatre mole, your intrepid reviewer went subterranean to visit The Old Vic Tunnels for Beth Steel’s apocalyptic new play Ditch.

Located beneath Waterloo station and approached along a depressing back street, the venue is actually a happy compromise away from the more adventurous site-specific locations that can be something of an ordeal. It still gets cold and it smells a bit but, with comfy seats donated by Banksy and a bar that boasts no fewer than four designers, it is achingly cool and London’s most exciting new theatrical space.

More importantly, the creative team behind Ditch have used the venue well. Installations surround the auditorium. Plant-covered mill wheels are atmospherically lit and a dismembered tree hovers, upside down, over a bright red circle of cloth. It’s great scene setting and appropriate for the dystopian scenario that unfolds.

Although Ditch is set in the countryside and much of the action takes place out of doors, the survivor’s predicament is perfectly reflected by the large design team headed by Takis. Superb lighting and sound by Matt Prentice and Christopher Shutt add to constructing this frightening world. Here, while ‘security’ forces live in isolation with their housekeepers and search out ‘illegals’, there are some captivating moments – the sighting of a stag in the mist or the creation of a sunset that subtly suggests an atomic cloud.

There’s some superb acting as well. Sam Hazeldine plays the foul-mouthed Turner, dedicated to his soldier’s life with edgy brutality. Danny Webb is his commander, Burns, and convinces as a thoughtful, broken man who can remember what civilisation used to be like. Fighting off memories of the past as a strategy to survive is Dearbhla Molloy’s formidable Mrs Peel. This is a wonderful performance, as she looks after the men and herself with humorous, steely determination. Her other charge is the young Megan (Matti Houghton) who gives a touching portrayal full of small rebellions and a quest for love with spirited new recruit James (Gethin Anthony).

But what of the play itself? Steel has set out a standard science-fiction scenario with the odd little tactic of leaving out all the details. We are never told what has happened to the world and given next to no back-story for the characters. Avoiding specifics deprives us of questioning events or degenerating into adolescent paranoia. I suspect the idea is to focus instead on the characters’ reactions and some abstract ideas about the environment. This isn’t a trade off worth paying. Perversely, Steel ignores her own lesson that people can live in the moment and snatch joy in the worst of times to persist in a vision of the future both bleak and vague.

Until 26 June 2010

www.theoldvictheatre.com

Photo by William Knight

Written 21 May 2010 for The London Magazine