On a dark and stormy night, a couple in an isolated house receive an unexpected guest. There’s plenty of atmosphere to enjoy in Olivia Foan’s period drama and, if the show poses a moral dilemma rather than the spooky story you might initially expect, it remains very enjoyable.
The Edwardian age is tricky for fringe drama as props can be expensive. But designer Nikki Charlesworth has done very well (apart from the shoes). And if the language in the script might be stricter – modern terms sneak in – the plot is neat and twisty.
The couple, who have a tragic history, are brought to life by Lauren O’Leary and Keon Martial-Phillip. There’s thorough work behind the performances. Evelyn’s anxiety is a mystery that becomes moving, while Frank’s demons are revealed with skill. The dynamics of their relationship are interesting and dramatic.
The guest that gives the play its title is more of a problem. Giles Abbott gives a commendable performance, but the line between charisma and cliché might be crossed once or twice too often. Frank and Evelyn leap to suspicions… maybe the audience could have more doubts about the character, too? The Tinker takes up a lot of time and space in a play that isn’t, really, about him. Motives flip-flop too much, and his final action is downright odd.
The story that develops is both melodramatic and believable – which is a tricky mix to pull off. Children are the key (with a strong sense of period detail), and the plot turns on power. The wealthy Frank and Evelyn show themselves as ruthless. And a final twist suggesting the plan they hatch won’t work out is a great touch. The Tinker isn’t without problems but there’s enough strong work for all involved to be pleased.
After a valiant effort to get back to normal last year, London’s biggest theatre extravaganza has finally returned, and I am very excited. Never mind the smell of the greasepaint, it’s street artists’ aerosol spray at the Leake Street Arches that herald a two-month long programme of exciting and varied events.
First up is a one-woman show, written and performed by Olivia Miller. And very good it is too. Ostensibly a stand-up comedy act, with Mary Tudor presented as an angsty teenager, there are smart ideas and the performance is strong. We know these re-evaluations of history are clever as well as fun… but Mary warns us that she isn’t a fan of the musical Six. Is it, after all, full of her wicked stepmothers!
There is a lot of audience participation in Bloody Mary: Live! The venue suits it and Olivia Munk’s direction makes the most of this. I’m not a fan but, even objectively, there’s too much “raise your hand if…”, as the technique is used to structure the show. That said, Miller deals with the audience superbly. You do know where a lot of the jokes are going to end (not just because of history) but they are always well delivered.
The highlight of all the participation is very clever indeed. It involves volunteers doing nothing – just like the powerful men who could have helped Mary and her mother. The scene has real bite as we get to see the character as a frightened young girl. Read as a conceit that the comedy show is therapy for Mary, formats slip and trauma start to feel real.
Miller has done her homework and wants to present complexity. As well as tackling that bloody reputation, there’s a feminist perspective, highlighting that Mary’s romantic life was not her own and bringing out lots details that kids would call icky. A nice balance is provided by an infatuation with her childhood tutor.
When it comes to that nickname, the persecution of Protestants shows how damaged Mary was. The line between teenage dirtbag and young psychopath blurs to dramatic effect. Laughs stop and start suddenly. Miller manages to create a chill in the air and that is to her credit.