Tag Archives: James Bradwell

“The Garden of Words” at the Park Theatre

At a guess, Susan Momoko Hingley and Alexandra Rutter’s adaptation of Makoto Shinkai’s anime suffers from being too enamoured of its source. If you don’t know the original novel or film, then the story, structure and characters are confusing on stage. While bringing the genre to the theatre is an interesting project, I fear this production is for fans only.

We follow two school pupils through snatched scenes. Takao wants to design shoes and plays truant to talk to an older woman in the park when it rains. Meanwhile, Shōko has an abusive relationship with a basketball player conducted entirely over the phone. It’s intriguing, if slow, and looks at plenty of teenage troubles. But the disjointed telling means too much time is taken working out the basics.

It’s impressive that two young leads manage to make the show watchable. Shoko Ito and Hiroki Berrecloth are engaging and ably supported by James Bradwell and Susan Momoko Hingley herself, who play the latter’s brother and mother respectively. All bring out a good deal of tenderness and humour when addressing their characters’ various insecurities and problems – but issues arrive out of the blue and lack subtlety.

The twist, that the women Takao is talking to, Yukari, turns out to be a teacher, is tough to believe. And Yukari’s actions seem oddest of all – drinking in the park while she’s supposed to be at work. The chronology means problems in the school are a puzzle. Aki Nakagawa’s beatific portrayal of her makes her problems pale. The theme of intergenerational friendship is lost.

Maybe it’s better to think about the show in terms of atmosphere. Here, Rutter’s work as a director is better. There are attempts to create a poetic air that reflects the characters’ isolation. The movement is good and the music from Mark Choi is excellent. But problems persist. Cindy Lin’s set ends up fussy, with benches moved around interminably. And the show does not sit well with venue’s thrust stage – in particular, projections of poetry are too brief and too small.

The tone of the piece changes after the interval – what’s going on becomes clearer. But there are still those questions about motivation. We’re told that “all humans are weird” more than once and we can see that’s true. But it isn’t obvious where the observation leads. Such puzzles about Takao’s and Shōko’s feelings might be fine if the production was engrossing, but it all feels pruned rather than profound.

Until 9 September 2023


Photos by Piers Foley

“My Night With Reg” at the Turbine Theatre

Matt Ryan’s restrained revival of Kevin Elyot’s play proves enlightening. The story – of lust and unrequited love among a group of gay friends – balances comedy and tragedy. Sensitive to, but not enthralled by, the combination of laughs and tears, Ryan presents a surprisingly downbeat version. A melancholy edge gives the 1995 script a timeless quality.

My Night With Reg is very funny. The waspish banter and bickering makes for great one-liners. Pairing the introverted Guy with his extrovert friends is key to much of the humour. The larger-than-life Daniel and the smaller roles of Benny and Bernie are vividly portrayed by Gerard McCarthy, Stephen K Amos and Alan Turkington respectively. The jokes are there, but each performer makes sure their character’s individuality and pain are clear. You end up feeling a little too sorry for everyone you see.

The sense of tortured souls is even more pronounced with central roles. Guy is a nervous figure, which can be fun. But laughing at him proves hard in Paul Keating’s fraught portrayal (you start to wonder if this prim figure might have serious problems). Edward M Corrie takes the part of Guy’s life-long crush, John, hitting the bottle and looking lost throughout. Both performances are consistent and careful, but to a fault. Making both so miserable strips the play of surprises.

James Bradwell in My Night With Reg at The Turbine Theatre - Photo by Mark Senior
James Bradwell

A final character, the much younger Eric, comes to the fore and makes a star role for James Bradwell. Appropriate to the play’s elegiac nature, Eric’s naïve questions about how to live and love are well delivered and Bradwell gives the role depth. Ryan focuses on questions around monogamy and honesty – the Aids epidemic that Elyot was responding to becomes more of a backdrop than you might expect.

While the trauma of Aids for a generation of gay men is always given its due, what could have been an ‘issues’ play, looking at a moment in history, is opened up. Ryan might be taking us closer to how the gay community experienced the epidemic – as it unfolded, rather than an event with a narrative constructed afterwards. And he makes those concerns about fidelity and truthfulness present in the play ring out louder than ever. The thoughtful approach brings benefits to both play and production: win-win.

Until 21 August 2021


Photos by Mark Senior