Tag Archives: Hope Theatre

“Brimstone and Treacle” at the Hope Theatre

Here is a real find on the fringe. Many a larger venue might have considered a 40th anniversary revival of Dennis Potter’s landmark play, but director Matthew Parker has beaten them to it and can bask in the glory of his superb production of this brilliant piece.

Potter’s scenario has a severely disabled girl, tended by her desperate parents, visited by evil. It’s a remarkable performance by Olivia Beardsley as Pattie, the bedridden victim of a hit and run who’s unable to speak yet communicates frustration and fear. Pattie’s father regards her as dead. The alternative – that she is “locked in” –is just too frightening for him, but the possibility that she is sentient haunts the play.

Both Pattie’s parents are struggling. Her mother, a house-bound full-time nurse, is played to perfection by Stephanie Beattie, who combines her wretchedness with humorous touches. The talented Paul Clayton plays the father, an objectionable figure who’s close to parody. Clayton invites us to take the character seriously, while glimpses of his love and regret are tender without being mawkish. The couple’s flirtation with right-wing politics makes Potter visionary – the yearning for isolationism and a past where people “did less sniggering” – gives us plenty to think about in 2017.

It’s with the character of Martin, played here by Fergus Leathem, that Brimstone and Treacle becomes unforgettable. He is a visitor claiming to have been Pattie’s fiancé. First comes nervous laughter at supernatural overtones, then chills with his monotonal singing and glances to the audience, culminating in truly shocking abuse. Parker’s staging of all these levels of discomfort is handled brilliantly, destabilising the audience and aiding the tension in the text.

This suburban Satan may have a Rosemary’s Baby plan in mind. But he is also a common conman and out of luck crook, all combined to make him a catalogue of fears. There’s a twist, too – a sin that has nothing to do with him revealed as a last disorientation. Fully developing Potter’s nuanced play, without denying dangerous edges and firmly establishing it within its period, are all big achievements for this tiny theatre. With four performances as good as any you could see on a stage, this is one to grab a ticket for… quick.

Until 20 May 2017


Photo by lhphotoshots

“Penetrator” at The Hope Theatre

Sensitive souls may not welcome the return of ‘in-yer-face’ theatre – writing marked by hothouse aggression and surreal shock tactics – but this revival of Anthony Neilson’s 1994 play, from director Phil Croft, shows the genre has intelligent admirers. The cast is remarkably strong – with two exciting professional debuts – and the work feels smack up to date.

A couple of “waster” friends obsessed with porn and drugs are enough to make anyone middle-aged feel as old as the hills. Their foul language and crass observations are exhausting. And the presence of stuffed toys in such a sex-mad environment initiates some particularly gross scenarios. When an old friend, Tadge, returns from the army in a distressed and delusional state, the comedy darkens impressively: to say that this blood-stained arrival is “off his nut” is delivered as a marvellous understatement. The trauma that unfolds is tautly delivered and thought provoking.

Ambiguous sexuality is only one part of the confusion gripping this strange trio: the characters are deliberate exaggerations. And yet Alexander Pardey and Jolyon Price (pictured) both impress, with youthful bluster and insecurities that remain recognisable.
Tadge brings grim conspiracies of sexual violence with him and a paranoid feast ensues. Neilson’s script balances violence and comedy brutally, Croft guarantees tension and Tom Manning performs so magnificently that I was genuinely concerned.

Tawdry and full of fragility, Penetrator is truly pathetic by the end. The writing is strong enough to generate a good deal of sympathy for the teddy bears, let alone these lost characters. Neilson depicts masculinity as infantilised but, more importantly, indicates the consequences of this and the pain that ensues.

Until 22 August 2015


“The Legacy” at the Hope Theatre

Reminiscent of David Mamet’s work, Angela Clarke’s new play, The Legacy, is strong and exciting writing. A simple story of two sisters, reunited for the reading of their father’s will, there’s a dark secret to be revealed in this tightly constructed, character-driven drama, which is well observed and full of tension.

The cast gives careful performances, each character ripening from an instantly recognisable acquaintance into a thought-provoking, well-realised figure. Lucinda Westcar’s Rebecca has a frozen compliance with her suburban existence that becomes febrile when events threaten her Farrow & Ball lifestyle. Her successful husband Adam is easy to dislike, but Jim Mannering gives him an angry edge that, disconcertingly, invites sympathy. As a depiction of that infamous ‘squeezed middle’, the couple makes you stop and think about this much derided demographic. Finally, while I trust we’d all agree with prodigal activist Esther’s politics, Claira Watson Parr’s calm and clever performance shows how irritating the character might be and plays with suspicions we might have about her motivations.

It’s the turbulent ride of repulsion and sympathy for these characters, so deftly handled by director Michael Beigel, which impresses most. Along with expertly placed plot reveals, there’s a respect for the audience’s intelligence that engenders a mutual respect. Clarke raises serious feminist issues, with potential to expand into a longer piece, creating a trio of characters I sincerely hope to meet again in another theatre for a longer run.

Until 13 June 2015


Photo by Ben Broomfield