Tag Archives: Rochenda Sandall

“Talking Heads” at the Bridge Theatre

Four out of eight… that’s not some strange rating for these shows, far from it, but the number I’ve managed to see in this series of Alan Bennett monologues. The tickets are reasonably priced, the staff on top of social distancing, and creative director Nicholas Hytner’s idea of bringing his lockdown TV shows to the stage (where they clearly belong) is a simply brilliant.

The Shrine & Bed Among the Lentils

First up is Monica Dolan’s brilliant portrayal of a grieving widow. Learning about her husband’s life – after his death – her version of Clifford the bird watcher has to expand to include Cliff the biker. The Shrine is sensitive and often funny. It’s classic Bennett territory, with plenty of wry observation. And an important point about how individual bereavement is.

The accompanying piece has Lesley Manville’s turn as an “upstanding Anglican lady”. Battles with her husband the Vicar, and his fan club parishioners, start well. But does competitive flower arranging sit uncomfortably alongside the AA meetings the character ends up at? It’s Manville who makes the extramarital affair here seem something magical. Another performance not to miss. Both pieces are directed with a sure hand by Hytner.

The Hand of God & The Outside Dog

Another piece is also mostly noticeable for its performance. Did you ever imagine Kristen Scott Thomas could ‘do’ frumpy? The Hand of God is a touch predictable but, with an affecting melancholic air there’s no doubt this is another of Bennett’s strong characters. Playing a small-time antiques dealer, with humour coming from her snobbery, is a real achievement on Scott Thomas’s part.

More impressive – as the performance is excellent and the writing surprising – is The Outside Dog where Bennett moves to less familiar ground. A serial killer’s wife, a role Rochenda Sandall gets lots from, in a script that twists like a thriller. It’s plot driven but note its brevity. While the TV might drag a serial out of something like this (and we’ve all seen plenty on Netflix lately) Bennett and director Nadia Fall cram mystery, drama and emotion in a quarter of an hour – fantastic!

There are four more big stars to come – Lucian Msamati, Imelda Staunton, Tamsin Grieg and Maxine Peake – in two more double bills. This may be bite size theatre, but the season is a big achievement.

Until 31 October 2020

www.bridgetheatre.co.uk

Photos by Zach Harrison

“Pomona” at the National Theatre

Alistair McDowall’s loopy, plot-fuelled drama is structured like a Mobius strip, as we join a frightening search for a missing girl in a dystopian Manchester. Propelled by an HP Lovecraft role-playing game, which the characters all join and where it’s never clear who is in charge, what might have been confusing keeps you intrigued throughout.

The people of the sinister urban wasteland of Pomona fascinate as they search for obliteration in a variety of nasty ways. The cast is superb, including Nadia Clifford’s Ollie, looking for her sister, along with Sam Swann and Sean Rigby as two security guards getting deep into trouble. Rochenda Sandall plays a frightening brothel madam and Rebecca Humphries is outstanding in the most fully formed role of Fay. Presiding over all are Guy Rhys as Moe – a commanding presence despite his claim to be “neutral”, which is saying something since he spends the entire play in his underpants – and Sarah Middleton’s spooky Keaton, a part urban myth, part autistic anime character.

The idea is simple… deep down. A mesh of genres, including thriller and sci-fi, is skilfully woven with plenty of conspiracy theories to examine society’s complicity with moral injustice. Do we ask or ignore awkward questions? The play is a moral maze in more ways than one. I guess there had to be a dose of determinism as well, nicely embodied with gaming dice. Along with all the tension and supernatural overtones Pomona is plenty cryptic and could be frustrating, but instead it’s thoroughly entertaining.

Director Ned Bennett’s skill in bringing this often downright peculiar vision to the stage is remarkable. With a fraught atmosphere he avoids pretentiousness by bringing out the humour in the script and emphasising action. Above all, it’s a game that will keep you guessing. Short, sharp scenes along with creepy touches (much credit to designer Georgia Lowe) can be described as a nightmare that is a puzzle to you upon waking. And puzzles, after all, are great fun.

Until 10 October 2015

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Richard Davenport