Tag Archives: Kevin Wathen

“The Standard Short Long Drop” at The Vanguard, Camden

Rachel Garnet’s historical prison drama is a tidy play that offers a prism to look at crime and capital punishment. Set in 19th-century York, a man on death row is offered a reprieve if he will act as hangman for his cell mate. The dilemma arrives swiftly and the debate is an interesting exercise. 

Garnet’s skill as a writer along with strong performances and precise direction from Natasha Rickman ensure success. The key is taking gallows humour in a surprising direction – Garnet takes wit seriously. The funny remarks come from the characters’ deepest fears and beliefs. Ultimately, it is the humour that engenders the play’s humanity and makes it moving.

Prisoner Alistair’s dry logic, his apparent resignation, is contrasted with the naivety of his younger companion, Ludley. But we know one can’t be as calm as he seems and the other can’t be as stupid! Kevin Wathen gives a carefully layered performance as Alistair, making the character suitably imposing. Per Carminger is passionate and convincing as the “tender soul” Ludley. There’s tension in getting to know the men’s crimes and Garnet makes what they have done so satisfyingly complex, the play doesn’t deserve spoilers.

As for the history, without giving too much away, Garnet has a brilliantly light touch. One small query – the play might look more at religion, especially given the suggestion of Catholicism. A concern with class has suitably Victorian overtones but is given impressive urgency. There’s a passion in discussing factory conditions I don’t remember from my social and economic history classes – a real achievement.

We get to know the men as they get to know each other, Rickman complements the script while the performers relish the roles. Of course, it all makes Ludley’s task harder. That the victim tries to help might seem improbable but both characters see the play’s point – they are trapped in an evil system. Alistair becomes a teacher, but also counsellor, maybe even confessor, to his own executioner. There’s a sting in the piece that is planned, effective, and builds marvellously.

Until 22 October 2023

For tickets click here

“Monster” at the Park Theatre

Abigail Hood’s disturbing play works hard at being hard hitting. Tackling so much trauma – including the death of a child – ensures the drama is powerful. And the show is well performed, despite the bumpy script. But be prepared, the show is not for the faint hearted.

Kayleigh and Caitlin (Hood and Zoe Douglas) are schoolgirl lovers, and their affair is well depicted. Although they are both old for their age, with difficult backgrounds, Hood manages to remind us that they are still children. The girls are endearing and the humour is strong. But laughs stop quickly, and the play explodes in an exaggerated fashion.

An episodic structure, handled at a breakneck pace by director and dramaturg Kevin Tomlinson, feels horribly rushed. There’s little wrong with any of the scenes but all are so short that none quite satisfies. Secondary characters suffer. Although well performed by Gillian Kirkpatrick and Emma Keele, Kayleigh’s mother and a well-meaning schoolteacher do not convince. The former is a religious maniac/prostitute and the latter another victim of abuse seeking to “save” the young girl. Grim is fine, but sketchy proves frustrating.

Kevin Wathen

There is a welcome change of pace after the interval. A calmer approach brings more depth. Set after Kayleigh’s release from prison, the aftermath of her crime is examined in more detail.  The scenario is contrived and the dialogue clunky, even clichéd. But observing how events have changed all the characters leads to good performances (and, since he hasn’t been mentioned yet, Kevin Wathen has a superb scene).

Might there be a too much sympathy for the monster of the title? Kayleigh is a fascinating character, from a smart girl with “no filter” to a woman genuinely haunted by what she has done. Hood conveys all this superbly, with a depiction so determined to be empathetic that it becomes bold and raises interesting questions. Despite problems in the script, which never hold the cast back, it’s interesting and brave to face the monstrous like this.

Until 20 August 2022


Photos by Ben Wilkin