Tag Archives: Theatre N16

“Dark Vanilla Jungle” at Theatre N16

Here’s a chance to see a great play by one of the finest writers around. Philip Ridley’s nightmarish nativity tale is an 80-minute monologue of consummate storytelling that’s not for the faint hearted. Second Sons Theatre Company’s production can be viewed as a summons to explore the darkest of subject matter – you have been warned.

As with another of Ridley’s short plays, Tonight With Donny Stixx, this is an intimate encounter with a disturbed, taboo-breaking youngster. As an examination into sexism, too, given Ridley’s ripe imagination, the result is one of toxic potency. It’s a huge role for Emily Thornton as Angela. A troubled childhood as “an invisible” abandoned by parents, a horrific, sexually abusive relationship, then a fantastical – and repulsive – breakdown and a crime are all mixed together. Thornton conveys her character’s unbalanced naivety well, her make-believing even better, and has a go with the themes of “camouflage” that excite Ridley. If there’s a shortcoming, some of the wicked humour is missed, but this is a performance to be proud of.

Samson Hawkins’ direction is unflinching, the staging bravely minimal. Andrea’s confused ideas about gender roles, including a flirtation with the language of fundamentalism, voice fears that many leave unspoken. It can’t be stressed enough that this is queasy stuff. But a play this audaciously florid, with a production that does it justice, is a challenge to an audience that should be accepted.

Until 31 March 2017


Photo copyright Second Sons

“Gertrude – The Cry” at Theatre N16

Chris Hislop is a brave director. Staging the first revival of Howard Barker’s 2002 play is not for the faint hearted. The play refocuses Shakespeare’s Hamlet through female characters and makes for an interesting puzzle. The controversy comes with a tense subservience to Barker’s own themes – this is some explicit Shakespeare. X-rated and extreme, the text’s obsession with sex and death is allied to the idea of ecstasy, and there are plenty of downright odd ideas and actions. Opening on Gertrude and Claudius fornicating over a corpse is hardly subtle stuff, but a kinky, adventurous streak is to the production’s credit.

Jamie Hutchins as Hamlet
Jamie Hutchins as Hamlet

Hislop deserves further praise for the strong performances garnered from his cast, and there’s a deserved sense of pride in showing these off. In the title role Izabella Urbanowicz is “severe” and sex crazed, and skilled at showing the character’s pain – even when Gertrude starts referring to herself in the third person, there’s still fragility. All the men are in thrall to Gertrude, and Alexander Hulme and David Zachary play Claudius and Albert with a suitably visceral brutality.

The more interesting characters, who bring out the sly humour in the text, are the servant Cascan, well played by Stephen Oswald, and our former hero, Hamlet. Taking on a very different Dane, one in “the last days of infancy”, Jamie Hutchins excels, “saying less, suffering more”, with outrage and oddity perfectly embodied. There are two further fascinating roles for women. L J Reeves plays Ragusa (no, I’m not sure why she isn’t called Ophelia) and Lisa Keast, the “vile and peculiar” Queen Mother. More than a foil for Gertrude, Barker spoils us by giving these women quirks of their own. Their brave performances add substantially to the show.

None of the roles Barker has written is easy. The accusation against him is one of misogyny – it’s easy to see why – but misanthropy might be more precise. Ragusa’s lament, that “man is better than this, surely?”, is one line most of us would agree with. More problematic, the characters are so deliberately stylised (yet more credit to the cast) with a yen for the abstract, it’s easy to disconnect from them. Barker’s poetic dialogue, expletives included, is so defiant it’s hard not to admire it. But discussion of that cry – a mysterious signifier of orgasm, childbirth, betrayal (a lot, then) – is both overplayed and opaque. Suspiciously in need of capitalisation, The Cry takes over from Gertrude as the subject of this play. Frequently hysterical, the text becomes shrill. My response to Barker, a polite request to “Calm down, dear.”

Until 30 June 2016


Photos by Roy Tan