Tag Archives: Lisa McGrillis

“Human Animals” at the Royal Court

Stef Smith’s new play looks at control and civilisation, depicting a particularly English apocalypse under the veneer of an environmental disaster. The dystopia created when pigeons and foxes go mad (my, how playwrights love these disasters) leads to quarantine and mass destruction. It’s predictably grim but nonetheless affecting.
The production is innervated by direction from Hamish Pirie, while Camilla Clarke’s colourful murals, video projections and windows splattered with blood create an impressive set. Efforts are made to inject tension, but the trajectory of the story and political responses of the characters frustrate this.
Human Animals
The cast is top notch. Stella Gonet plays a grieving widow wonderfully (it’s the best part), joined by Natalie Dew as her spirited daughter. Their respective approaches to the crisis – resignation and revolt – are the central dynamic for Smith and could have made a play of its own.
Human AnimalsA young couple, admirably performed by Lisa McGrillis and Ashley Zhangazha, share the dilemma of what to do as the state takes charge. One saves animals secretly and the other works for the company profiting from slaughtering all the wildlife. Their relationship is depicted carefully but the argument is blunt.
Human Animals
For a final pairing, oddity is the theme. Two unlikely drinking partners, with bizarre twists to their conversations, are apathy and action personified. Even performers as magnetic as Ian Gelder and Sargon Yelda can’t save the roles from being a puzzle. Showing their bestial sides, as society breaks down, isn’t enough of a pay off.
With the majority of characters too briefly sketched, and the scenario less than compelling, it’s fortunate Smith writes with a powerful, poetic turn. Vivid imagery and bold scenes, where the cast combines to choral effect, are the highlights that ensure this sketchy play becomes impressively pushy.

Until 18 June 2016


Photos by Helen Maybanks

“The Pass” at the Royal Court

This month former Premier League footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed that he is gay. It adds some topicality to John Donnelly’s new play The Pass, currently showing at the Royal Court, which examines a footballer’s sexuality in three scenes during his career. But if you caught the news, you probably weren’t that bothered. And this is where Donnelly really scores: The Pass only uses its characters’ sex lives to explore something we find much more interesting nowadays – fame – and it does this in exemplary fashion.

At first it’s all juvenile fun: two teenagers in a hotel room, reeking of hormones. The banter is disgraceful, no surprise, but an uneasy twist comes with the suggestion that Jason is toying with Ade’s affections: literally using sex as a weapon to put his fellow fledgling player off his game. Things take a darker turn as Jason’s career takes off. Exploiting a cliché, a one-night stand with a table top dancer, Donnelly adds enough twists and turns for a thriller. Already corrupted by celebrity status Jason has become a monster, albeit one with an indefinable charm, and like all scary villains he has plenty of plans.

the pass-142
Gary Carr and Russell Tovey

There are minor issues with the text that even John Tiffany’s skilled direction can’t quite hide but a talented cast ensure they don’t become irritants. Gary Carr deals remarkably with the years separating his appearances, transforming from a boy into a confident man. Lisa McGrillis is superb in her scene, keeping you on the edge of your seat. All eyes are on Russell Tovey in the lead role. Few do matey straight roles better than Tovey: his comic skills are perfect, but the play’s time scale and his character’s development give him the chance to show great depth. Maybe his performance will be enough to get the show a transfer (apologies).

While Tovey never falters, The Pass doesn’t keep up the wonderfully high standard of its first two scenes. The introduction of a fourth role, a young boy who works in a third and final hotel, marks an able debut from Nico Mirallegro, but the character, who shows the same faux naivety Donnelly uses so well elsewhere, fails to convince. Jason’s connection with reality becomes a little too strained now he is a megastar. But admittedly the tension continues and The Pass still thrills. A reunion between Jason and Ade brings us more power games and moral questions – the price of fame and failure – formulated in an insightful fashion.

Until 1 March 2014


Photos by Manuel Harlan

Written 19 January 2014 for The London Magazine