Tag Archives: Teatro Technis

“Dear Elizabeth” at Theatro Technis

Theatregoers get used to professionalism and perfection. This blog is full of questions about choices and quibbles about generally (very) good shows. So the idea of a production with the cast coming cold to the script – with different performers every night – has a peculiar appeal. A deliberate move away from polish is novel and oddly exciting.

Visiting North London from the Gate Theatre, Dear Elizabeth is a presentation of letters between American poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. It is love story, of sorts, that takes the decades and complexities of an original romance in its stride. But the performers don’t know what the letters contain or what the ending will be. The result is a sense of adventure – and fun.

Game for the challenge the night I attended were performers Martins Imhangbe and Roberta Livingston. The run will pair an established actor with a recent graduate – a nice idea. But I suspect the readings will generally remind those of us who hate the idea of speaking aloud that actors – through their training – are a different breed! Imhangbe and Livingston were both assured and charismatic, and showing how much they were enjoying themselves proved contagious. Receiving packages of letters – including instructions – and props throughout, they always had the audience on their side.

Of course, there were more stumbles over words than usual. But with beautiful speaking voices and some magical ability to inject emotion into phrases off the bat, we almost need reminding that Imhangbe and Livingston hadn’t seen the text before. And here is where the skill behind the show comes in – that spontaneity is cleverly controlled.

Only the cast is unprepared! The carefully constructed script by Sarah Ruhl bring us close to the poets’ lives and love affairs with ease. All kinds of topics – focusing on health and work – are skilfully covered, providing considerable insight. And Ruhl has a careful eye on the ethical implications of her project with a brilliant section that has Bishop criticising Lowell for using another person’s biography in his art. 

Director Ellen McDougall, with the aid of designers Moi Tran, Jessica Hung Han Yun and Jon Nicholls (set, lighting and sound, respectively) retains a surprising degree of control. Paying special attention to the pace of the performance, factoring in time for the actors to work out what the hell they do next, without pausing the action, is brilliantly done. 

The performers and audience are together in taking cues at the same time – the music and lighting point us towards responses simultaneously. The concept behind Dear Elizabeth only goes part of the way to ensure the evening is a success. But making theatre so immediate – so in the moment – is especially timely after we’ve missed the stage for so long. The show also reminds us how varied the talents behind any production are. And I hope all involved take this blog as a kind of thank-you letter.

Until 18 September 2021


“Shadows” at Teatro Technis

Birmingham-based Carguil Lloyd George Webley’s play has too short a stay in London. This prison drama is a solid, old-fashioned piece with problems but great potential. It’s an ‘issues’ play – all about black men – with palpable conviction. The raising of questions is not subtle, but the arguments are honest, interesting and presented coherently. And Shadows doesn’t preach, even if too many lines sound like essay questions.

Perhaps the characters are mouthpieces a little too obviously. Yet Edmund, an elderly recidivist, talks of “the struggle” in a satisfyingly realistic way. In the role, David Monteith excels in suggesting, then exposing, the violence and frustration that has shaped his life. There are possibilities for more humour in the character (and the play as a whole) but Monteith makes the part work.

Edmund’s cellmate and debating partner is a less successful creation. It’s too tempting to explain his woeful fate simply because he identifies himself as British over and above being black. It might help if the character was less naïve and priggish. A painful backstory and his relationship to religion are tacked on. None of this helps Pharaon El-Nur, who takes the part, but he gives a committed performance although (easily remedied) he needs to speak up.

What also might be made clearer is the two older men’s battle for the future of a third – the young Chase, ably performed by David Ogechukwu Isiguzo. Chase’s youth and potential to turn his life around give Shadows a political urgency in human terms. Here we have a character we can root for, and we could do with seeing more of him.

In the second act the play becomes plot bound, which affords Troy Richards a fine moment centre stage as a prison guard. But the twists are predictable and too condensed. Meanwhile the lighting is erratic and distracting. More importantly, Kevin Michael Read’s direction feels rushed – even with a collection of monologues that (nice touch) are addressed to a camera. Some of the play’s flaws could be palliated with more time given to the action. What’s missing is the monotony of prison life. This could have been a source of tension if tackled with confidence. The play is strong enough to be taken at a slower pace – it deserves that – as well as a return visit.

Until 7 December 2017