Tag Archives: Metamorph Theatre

“Right Dishonourable Friend” at the Vault Festival

Here is solid work from debut playwriting duo Phoebe Batteson-Brown and Eoin McKenna that lives up to the name of co-producing theatre company Metamorph. The piece is a political satire that becomes a heavy drama and shifts tone to great effect.

At first, Right Dishonorable Friend feels like sitcom territory. With a politician from the South parachuted into a Northern constituency, there are plenty of satisfying, if safe, jokes. The cast is confident, the delivery strong, and the audience happy.

Politician Perdita needs a campaigning issue and, since she loves “the gays”, decides to champion facilities for LGBTQ+ youth, an issue close to the heart of her communications manager Dan. It’s a little sad this seems an unlikely campaign for her to pick, but never mind. The story gets serious when she reneges on her pledge with tragic consequences.

The play itself seeks to campaign and its political content is clear (the production promotes the charity Stonewall Housing). The argument is presented powerfully – but might be handled better theatrically. Batteson-Brown and McKenna, who also perform, have written big roles for themselves that showcase their talents. But director Kayla Feldman, who does a good job keeping the action swift, might demand more nuance. Batteson-Brown’s comedy skills are unquestionable while McKenna brings sincerity to his role – but both are good enough performers to blur the lines between being funny and serious more.

Rachael Hilton and Eoin McKenna in 'Right Dishonourable Friend' at the Vault Festival
Rachael Hilton and Eoin McKenna

The characters aren’t flat because we do see more than one dimension. But Dan changes from competent and quiet too quickly and it’s too obvious he’d make a better MP than his boss. You might even find him a little preachy? Perdita moves from a ditzy posh girl to showing a machiavellian side too late. Any sympathy for the character falls flat and while pitying her is a big a call, seeing more of the pressure on her could be interesting. Rachael Hilton, who plays three characters of very different ages, comes off very well; establishing each role quickly, getting great laughs and bringing sensitivity to the role of teenage Alex, Hilton is hugely impressive.

The potential for Right Dishonourable Friend is clear; it’s just a question of a little more polish. Improvements will not even be that hard: more colourful pasts are hinted at for both characters, I even suspect the material is already written, which would help enormously. And it would be good to see more of Alex, if only to aid Dan’s final speech. But it’s a brave move to end a piece with lots of comedy on a downbeat note – it makes the conviction behind the play stirring and the show certainly gets my vote.

Until 18 February 2023


“Scab” at the Arcola Theatre

Theatregoers continue to be spoilt for monologues, but in a crowded field this script by Luke Stapleton is credible and safe to recommend: Scab is thought-provoking and entertaining, with an exceptional performance from Conor Lowson that should not be missed.

The young man we meet, who Lowson makes engaging throughout, is an unwilling Samaritan to Keith, an injured old man who is suffering from dementia. Coming to know Keith’s estranged daughter Carla and helping with the construction of a boat, establishes themes of family, aging and trauma that Stapleton makes intriguing.

Despite the broad Northern accents there might be less sense of place than intended. The plentiful details in the script focus on food – these are good (and having sold ice creams I can confirm Solero’s are for a sophisticated clientele). But more diversity would be welcome to locate Scab in place and time.

More seriously, if you like your writing neat, there are loose ends here. We learn about Keith’s past but are still in doubt as to the motivation and pain of others. Stapleton has created characters we want to know more about – well done – but it’s disappointing that mystery remains despite a strong finale.

Nonetheless, there’s an impressive imagination behind the script. And some vivid imagery that mixes the mundane and the magical in a distinctive fashion. The performance of the text, with crudity and invitations to marvel at beauty, is hugely impressive…if not always for the best reasons.

Director Jamie Biddle appreciates speed is important to Stapleton’s work. A rapid delivery shows a stream of consciousness and brings naturalism, aiding conversations between characters. Lowson delivers all this very well – for sheer speed he cannot fail to impress. But I wonder if, rather than waiting for the audience to accustom themselves to the pace, it could be slower at first? That said, reservations about the breakneck speed fade when taking into account performance conditions.

While the main theatre is closed for renovations, the Arcola’s outdoor tent proves an unforgiving venue. It may be Covid Safe but it is far from soundproof. With a queue for the local roof top bar going past the theatre, and partygoers drinking while they wait, it felt like Lowson was pretty much acting in the street. All the more credit for such a committed performance – a nuanced delivery with fantastic energy. Lowson didn’t flinch despite conditions – both he and Scab won my admiration as a result.

Until 21 August 2021


“The Good Landlord” at the King’s Head Theatre

This play’s première early in the year at the Vault Festival was a fraught affair, given the recent death of its talented writer Michael Ross. Having collaborated on the play with Metamorph Theatre, the author’s absence for finishing touches was clear. But also obvious, thankfully, was the play’s potential. The story of a London flat with cheap rent because its tenants are to be watched by cameras is topical and challenging. The script is a sharp comedy with clever content. And now, given more time, its quality shines through.

Director Cat Robey deserves much of the praise. The production is sharper, pacier and generally more confident. The plot comes to the fore as flatmates Tom and Ed react to being recorded – we want to know what happens next. The balance between the serious themes in Ross’s writing – relative poverty, pervasive technology and the painful issue of body image – are all deftly handled. The characters feel grounded, a delicious mix of introverts to root for and extroverts you can laugh it (although I suppose that might be the other way around for some!). A quartet of strong performances come into their own with the aid of Ross’s witty and intelligent lines creating interesting characters just the right side of satire.

Rupert Sadler gives a strong performance, having bedded down into his role as Ed. Initially calmer than in the show’s first outing, Ed’s desperation to keep living in the flat develops nicely into a mania. And his fascination with the “all-mighty, all-seeing” landlord leads to a clever play with masculinity that does the text justice. Above all, Sadler is funny throughout. Likewise, Phoebe Batteson-Brown shows her tremendous comic skills with a performance of great assurance – don’t miss a single move she makes as the scary estate agent Clarissa, for each intense twitch is worth a laugh. While these two characters aim at conventional success, Ross points out that their grasp on reality is thin; flights of fancy Ed and Clarissa embark on are deliciously delivered highlights.

Joining the team is Sophia Eleni, playing Clarissa’s PA, who skives off work to become a voyeur of the guys. There’s still room for growth here, as the role connects to an examination of working life that fascinated Ross and could be developed. Nonetheless, Eleni makes a sweet love interest for the landlord’s more reluctant tenant Tom, played by Theo Ancient. Having recently toured Ross’ The Shy Manifesto, Ancient knows the author’s work intimately and it really shows. Tom is a fascinating mix of insecurity and confidence, a balance of sensitivity with an intelligence that doesn’t suffer fools.

The Good Landlord is still a work in progress (according the company’s hand out). But the improvement here is commendable and the show is on the way to becoming a fringe hit. The plan now is to take the play to Edinburgh next year and good luck to the team. Follow @M_MorphTheatre for news. I don’t give stars on this blog, for fear of being too reductive, but this is a firm four with no small amount of confidence that a sought-after fifth is on the way. 

Until 16 July 2019


“The Good Landlord”at the Vault Festival

Crammed to capacity with topicality, this sharp comedy full of serious concerns makes a smart debut show for Metamorph Theatre. It’s the story of two generation renters offered a cheap deal on a flat with a view of Big Ben. The catch is that their new home is full of security cameras. Hilarity and debate follow as Tom and Ed cope, in very different ways, with a live feed to the apartment’s eponymous owner.

Phoebe Batteson-Brown

Driving the show’s comedy is a great performance by Phoebe Batteson-Brown. Playing the brilliant role of an estate agent, there’s a fantastic mix of corporate double-think that plays with being believable and is delivered with deliciously manic touches. There’s a good part, too, for Tiwalade Ibirogba-Olulode as a secretary who sneaks a look at, and falls for, one of the flat’s spied-on occupiers.  A more understated performance makes for a useful contrast and means Ibirogba-Olulode anchors the play.

Tiwalade Ibirogba Olulode

As our heroes, the carefully – and creepily – selected tenants, both Maximillian Davey and Rupert Sadler do a good job of conveying a host of big issues with a light touch. Alongside considerations of technology and privacy, which have a nifty parallel to Ed’s obsession with spies (Sadler delivers this adorably), there’s queasy voyeurism and a consideration of body issues. The hang-ups Davey’s Tom is so quickly labelled with are carefully left open in a sensitive portrayal. Sadler’s strategy is different. He goes all out for comedy with Ed’s toe-curling exhibitionism. This works – he gets the laughs – but it’s testament to the writing that Ed could clearly be a more desperate and edgy character. 

As well as effective work with her cast, director Cat Robey deserves applause for her strong staging of the show in the round, which cleverly conjures up the idea of a panopticon. It’s nobody’s fault that the venue is so far from the des-res. the action takes place in, but it does jar. Maybe some really good landlord would allow an immersive production in a penthouse development still for sale? Given the satire here, probably not! Robey’s direction shows a firm eye for detail and an admirable appreciation of the text.

The script itself is a painful one to critique as its author died so suddenly and so recently. The Good Landlord started as a devised piece that Michael Ross wrote after workshops with the company and it feels that some work remains to be done. Ross was not available for final rehearsals, and it is distressing to wonder about last-minute changes he might have made. As it stands, the play is a little too compact and bijou – scenes need unpacking and developing. But the comedy is great, the dialogue superb. And there are fascinating ideas – the guys as “products” for a voyeuristic project, or “ornaments” for the flat – that are sure to linger. Despite its many merits, there’s a sense of mortgage rather than completion with The Good Landlord. It’s with hope, best wishes, and some confidence given the clear talent here, that this new company moves up the theatre ladder to even bigger things.

Until 10 February 2019


Photos by Ali Wright