Tag Archives: Jamie Hutchins

“Gertrude – The Cry” at Theatre N16

Chris Hislop is a brave director. Staging the first revival of Howard Barker’s 2002 play is not for the faint hearted. The play refocuses Shakespeare’s Hamlet through female characters and makes for an interesting puzzle. The controversy comes with a tense subservience to Barker’s own themes – this is some explicit Shakespeare. X-rated and extreme, the text’s obsession with sex and death is allied to the idea of ecstasy, and there are plenty of downright odd ideas and actions. Opening on Gertrude and Claudius fornicating over a corpse is hardly subtle stuff, but a kinky, adventurous streak is to the production’s credit.

Jamie Hutchins as Hamlet
Jamie Hutchins as Hamlet

Hislop deserves further praise for the strong performances garnered from his cast, and there’s a deserved sense of pride in showing these off. In the title role Izabella Urbanowicz is “severe” and sex crazed, and skilled at showing the character’s pain – even when Gertrude starts referring to herself in the third person, there’s still fragility. All the men are in thrall to Gertrude, and Alexander Hulme and David Zachary play Claudius and Albert with a suitably visceral brutality.

The more interesting characters, who bring out the sly humour in the text, are the servant Cascan, well played by Stephen Oswald, and our former hero, Hamlet. Taking on a very different Dane, one in “the last days of infancy”, Jamie Hutchins excels, “saying less, suffering more”, with outrage and oddity perfectly embodied. There are two further fascinating roles for women. L J Reeves plays Ragusa (no, I’m not sure why she isn’t called Ophelia) and Lisa Keast, the “vile and peculiar” Queen Mother. More than a foil for Gertrude, Barker spoils us by giving these women quirks of their own. Their brave performances add substantially to the show.

None of the roles Barker has written is easy. The accusation against him is one of misogyny – it’s easy to see why – but misanthropy might be more precise. Ragusa’s lament, that “man is better than this, surely?”, is one line most of us would agree with. More problematic, the characters are so deliberately stylised (yet more credit to the cast) with a yen for the abstract, it’s easy to disconnect from them. Barker’s poetic dialogue, expletives included, is so defiant it’s hard not to admire it. But discussion of that cry – a mysterious signifier of orgasm, childbirth, betrayal (a lot, then) – is both overplayed and opaque. Suspiciously in need of capitalisation, The Cry takes over from Gertrude as the subject of this play. Frequently hysterical, the text becomes shrill. My response to Barker, a polite request to “Calm down, dear.”

Until 30 June 2016


Photos by Roy Tan

“Goodbye Norma Jean” at the Park Theatre

An Essex grandmother runs away from her care home to Los Angeles, where she claims to be Marilyn Monroe. She’s followed by her grandson Joe, portrayed sensitively by Jamie Hutchins, and their relationship is explored with frank humour. The star is Vicki Michelle, famous for her role in ‘Allo ‘Allo, who makes the jokes work and creates some tender moments. Michelle lights up the show and is incredibly engaging. It’s unfortunate that the material falls short of her talents.

Dylan Costello’s script, which director Matthew Gould fails to rein in, suffers from leaden lines and an excess of events. Joe, whose boyfriend is abusive, talks to an imaginary Marilyn and has a burgeoning romance to deal with. It’s not that any of these plots are bad but, when combined, the play takes on more than it can cope with. Themes of fame and self-worth are fine, the topics are rich if unoriginal, but they end up being shouted and what could be a sweet comedy ends up taking itself too seriously.

The play has unhappy roles for its secondary characters. Farrel Hegarty has a near impossible task as two versions of imaginary Marilyns (I am afraid she appears to Michelle’s character as well) and only gets to shine with a smaller role as a TV host – yet another subplot that rams home the play’s suspicion of celebrity. Even worse is the part of Bobby, played by Peter McPherson. Costello creates characterisation through backstory alone – in just one scene we see Bobby as an unstable practical joker, a prostitute, a drug addict and the lover of a Hollywood star threatening to kill him. Clearly, a life a little too crowded with incident.

As for dialogue, the script is a tiresome collection of homespun truths that shouldn’t have been allowed out of the house, let alone near a stage. Some efforts at profundity don’t even make sense, especially in the relationship between Joe and Bobby, who fall in and out of love from sentence to sentence and end up talking about opening a pizza restaurant together. Nonsense like this, including a scene where Joe gets some new trainers, slows things down dreadfully. Throwing in terminal cancer and euthanasia seems vaguely tasteless and Costello’s script continually deflates during a painful second act. Hutchins struggles valiantly and Michelle makes sure you aren’t bored, but it’s a relief to say goodbye rather than au revoir to a script like this.

Until 19 March 2016


Photo by Mia Hawk