As the humour in Tom Vallen’s play shows, it’s temptingly easy to make fun of the idea that someone can be addicted to exercise. Along with being such a baffling notion to most of us, the macho rituals surrounding a workout create plenty of smiles. But Vallen aims to use the jokes pointedly in his serious play. Sponsored by the Body Dismorphic Disorder Foundation, this is a dramatic look at a psychological problem with tragic consequences that’s thought-provoking and important.
As a writing debut the piece is modest but sound. A slightly too speedy journey into body dysmorphia, with little grounding and only suggested explanations, is documented rather than explored. Another debut, as director, from Philip Scott-Wallace is more assured with the cast thoroughly drilled and their comings and goings choreographed nicely. Undoubtedly, Vallen has written a brilliant showcase for his acting talent as he takes the central role of Will. His physicality in the piece is sure to impress while the descent into anxiety is meticulously delivered.
Vallen’s co-stars also do well. Jennifer Brooke fleshes out her role as Will’s girlfriend Rebecca remarkably, suggesting the real woman beyond Will’s romantic ideas. As Will’s womanising gym buddy, a character of surprising depth, and then Rebecca’s colleague, Gabriel Akuwudike makes the most of two chances to impress, skipping between the roles to great effect. Showing the impact on friends and loved ones of such a damaging mental health condition is a sobering addition. There is a notable lack of sympathy for the play’s once amiable lead, who turns psychotic so abruptly, that gives the play dramatic bite.
Until 13 May 2018
Photo by Boris Mitkov
Gwilym Lloyd makes a dynamic Cyrano in this new production at the White Bear Theatre. His accomplished performance takes the audience on the emotional journey his life-long love Roxane makes – only quicker – we see past his prodigious proboscis to his charms well before she does. From a figure of fun and violence, we come to view Cyrano as ‘philosopher, duellist, wit and lover’. Lloyd achieves all this and, with such a firm foundation, director Simon Evans’ production does not fail.
Cyrano’s loyalty to his friends is one of many enduring qualities. They voice our concerns that his talents might be wasted for quixotic reasons, and also detail the depth of his virtues. Cyrano’s stoicism in the face of his, er, face is deeply philosophical. Chief amongst his retainers is Le Bret, whose down-to-earth delivery shows actor David Mildon’s appreciation of this fresh and engaging translation by Ranjit Bolt. Similarly, Ben Higgins makes his professional debut with a charming performance as Ragueneau, who is supported and inspired by Cyrano.
Evans skilfully uses the whole company in some playful moments of bandying wit that establish a camaraderie that pays off during darker moments. Cyrano’s proxy love affair has serious consequences, but there is plenty of fun along the way, including a scene-stealing performance from Samuel Donnelly as the dastardly De Guiche, who is also besotted by Roxane. And it is easy to see why everyone is mad about the girl – Iris Roberts gives a delightful performance as the playful yet sincere word buff. Philip Scott-Wallace (in another professional debut to be proud of) plays the handsome cadet Christian whose looks win her heart, with just the right amount of confusion to maintain sympathy for himself as well as Cyrano.
With a light touch, Simon Evans has brought out the complexities as well as joys of Rostand’s classic tale. It seems appropriate that even at Cyrano’s death there is laughter as well as tears and that neither seems out of place.
Until 4 September 2010
Written 5 August 2010 for The London Magazine