Tag Archives: Graham Watts

“Garry” at the White Bear Theatre

Graham Watts’ quality production of this neglected play by Sophie Treadwell is a tough one to write about. That this world premiere is 65 years late indicates the unjust difficulties its author faced. It’s important to see more work by this great woman writer. And to see the topics of homosexuality, sexual violence and prostitution dealt with in such an early work is fascinating. But while it’s an admirable labour of love for Watts as director and producer, the play has missed its moment.

The titular lead, played with gusto by Thomas Martin, is so tormented by his homosexuality that he kills a man who picks him up in a hotel room. In a nice twist, the focus is really his sham marriage with the naïve Wilma who, having failed in her quest to ‘save’ Garry, still wants to stand by him. It’s Wilma’s play and the part makes a true starring role for Phebe Alys, who is terrific throughout. But while the piece doesn’t lack dramatic potential, the psychology offered is basic and setting out its scenario is so laboured that the play shows its age.

So, while the subject matter is bold, the show lacks tension. There’s no flaw on the part of Watts and the cast. It’s just that everything is spelled out too clearly and is predictable anyway. Garry’s status as a “punk” feels quaint – it’s only when he starts explaining his “flashes of hate” that he becomes scary. Wilma is too much the innocent abroad, although Alys is superb at reflecting how her husband being “afraid inside” becomes contagious. But both characters contain so little self-awareness that they fail to convince. The supporting characters (again, nicely played by Claire Bowman and Matthew Wellard) inject some questioning cynicism but only act as foils and are similarly flat and repetitive.

Treadwell’s skills are clear and considerable: the play’s structure is precise and there’s an impressive amount of action squeezed into one room. But, in pushing its 1950s audience, too much has to be explained and we end up with no surprises. As much as some bigots might like it, we no longer need to spell out the very idea of homosexuals existing. What’s going on with Garry is all too obvious at every step and much of the play’s shocks and twists are clear too early. The piece might be important and interesting history, but it isn’t one for today.

Until 22 June 2019


Photo by Ali Wright

“The Unnatural Tragedy” at the White Bear Theatre

As the recovery of lost classics go, director Graham Watts’ new production is a coup. Written by the fascinating Margaret Cavendish in 1662, and only now receiving a première, it should be on a ‘to see’ list for anyone interested in theatrical history as well as writing by women.

The play itself is more than a little mad. There are two tales that create a bizarre mix, presented in short scenes that make the play feel startlingly modern. There are the unhappy marriages of Monsieur Malateste: first to his “good natured wife”, obedient to a fault, then with his viduity ruined by a new free-spirited partner. The latter provides a fascinating part for Madeleine Hutchins in fine comic form, and manages to deflate the rather didactic tones that prevail. Then there is an incestuous affair between a brother and his reluctant sister, with strong performances from Jack Ayres and Alice Welby, as full of argument as angst. So we have a Restoration comedy, of sorts, butting against a spin on Jacobean tragedy (with suicides rather than murders) in a mashed-up fashion that the bravest of post-moderns would quake at.

It gets stranger. A group of “sociable virgins” discourse between scenes, forming a kind of single-sex Decameron, overtly playing with ideas on gender, politics and art. Questions about natural law versus society are never far away throughout the play and it is hard not to view them as heavy-handed. It’s testament to Watts’ skill that these scenes play so light – presenting the virgins as schoolgirls is the most obviously clever move. Hutchins and Phebe Alys cross over into the main stories, but their companions Lily Donovan and Eleanor Nawal also manage to impress in these scenes. Oh, and two narrator characters join the audience to debate, yet further, opinions on marriage and whether a woman can write a play! Again, credit to the performers who see how engaging the scenes should be; Charlotte Monkhouse and James Sanderson do an excellent job here and with the other roles they are called on to perform.

With plenty of peculiar (dare we say flat?) roles, Watts shows his formidable skills. Handling the eccentricities of the text is truly expert. The disturbing passions, so well portrayed by Ayres and Welby, are made chilling. Cavendish’s wit is clear enough, but Watt’s coaxing of the humour still deserves praise: he brings out the drollery not just with well-applied modern touches, and clever framing of scenes, but by engaging with the arguments respectfully. All in all, an intelligent production of a difficult piece so crammed full of incident and intellect it needs to be seen to be believed.

Until 21 July 2018