The EL. Train**** (Hoxton Hall, 29 December 2013)

Posted: December 29, 2013 in Theatre

A curious excursion to the fringes of London’s East End leads to a trilogy of one-act Eugene O’Neill plays which, individually, may be of little interest to anyone other than drama degree students, but, collectively, paint a vivid and disturbing picture of Chicago during the Depression era. The building, an antiquated meeting hall with ornate decor, looks as if it belongs in the 1920s and the audience is greeted on arrival with a band playing original jazz/blues music composed by Alex Baranowski. Music is also played between the plays, with vocals by Nicola Hughes. All three plays are set in squalid urban accommodation with the train of the collective title rumbling overhead. The first is Before Breakfast, a monologue performed by Ruth Wilson as a dutiful wife lecturing her husband, who is in the next room, about his laziness and infidelity. It is directed by Sam Yates, as is The Web, in which an alcoholic, consumptive prostitute (Wilson again) struggles to care for her baby in the face of aggression from her pimp (Zubin Varla); she finds brief hope in the form of a bank robber who is on the run (Simon Coombs). The final play, The Dreamy Kid, is directed by Wilson and involves a dying mother (Hughes) who presents her son (Coombs again), a killer on the run, with the dilemma of either staying by her bedside and facing certain arrest or escaping to possible freedom. The plays are intense, atmospheric and superbly acted, the cumulative effect of them being nightmarish. Cramped, wooden seats (at West End prices) do not provide the most comfortable way to spend 90 minutes, but, nonetheless, the venue enhances the experience. 2013’s theatregoing ends on a high note.

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