Archive for May, 2017

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This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

“What’s the point of surviving if you’re not going to live a little?” asks Finlay Bain’s irreverent hour-long post-apocalyptic comedy. This is the philosophy of Rob and Paul, survivors who are holed up in a chaotic flat as the world outside falls apart. Their strategy becomes to party like there is no tomorrow, accepting that there probably isn’t one.

Scotland has been conquered by zombies, the undead who only have to bite the living to conscript them to their ranks. Rob (played by the writer), swinging a baseball bat with the aggression of a modern day William Wallace, regards Paul (Paul Thirkell) as a replacement for the beloved pet dog that his father killed for being gay. Paul is not gay, but, being very camp, he is the closest thing to it. When Paul is interrupted by an intruder while quietly pleasuring himself, the flatmates’ cosy sanctuary is shaken.

The new arrival, sabre-wielding Penelope (Pearl Appleby), has found marauding gangs of survivors and participants in The X Factor more threatening than the zombies. The boys offer their guest the luxuries of a shower and baked beans (both cold), before bringing out the stronger substances. Laddish Rob and straight-laced, fussy Paul approach Penelope in very different ways, sparking much of the comedy in the lead up to a no-holds-barred party. Paul’s slow reaction to a drink spiked by Rob, as a tenor sings Con te partirò, is a gem of physical comedy in the middle of the raucous revelries.

There is an air of the band playing on while the Titanic sinks, but Bain manages to keep sombre themes bubbling under the surface without allowing them to drag the comedy down. He finds humour in dark, unexpected places and director Jordan Murphy’s production fizzes like the lager in cans hoarded by Rob, uncaring that survivors outside are dying of thirst. The actors too find the perfect balance between hilarity and pathos. This is a case of living a little and laughing a lot.

Performance date: 10 May 2017

 

The Pulverised (Arcola Theatre)

Posted: May 6, 2017 in Theatre

⭐️⭐️⭐️

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:  www.thereviewshub.com

For years we have been told that global warming poses the biggest threat to our future, but now Alexandra Badea’s play suggests that globalisation could prove a still greater danger. Viewed through the eyes of four employees of multinational corporations in Europe, Asia and Africa, she shows us how individuals can become controlled, dehumanised, disconnected from reality and effectively pulverise.

Badea is a Romanian-born writer living in France and her play has been translated from French by Lucy Phelps. Its director, Andy Sava is a British trained Romanian. The play’s vision is bleak, its characters entering seemingly unstoppable downward spirals from the outset, telling their stories in overlapping monologues, moving like zombies and playing “dead” while others speak.

Based in Lyon, a quality assurance of subcontractors manager (Richard Corgan) travels the world to be greeted by airports, hotels and offices that all look the same. He loses his sense of time and place, talking to his son via Skype on his lap top while ogling a sex worker on his i-pad. A research and development engineer (Kate Miles) in Bucharest, divides her time between being a mother and making presentations to executives who are falling asleep.

A factory worker (Rebecca Boey) in Shanghai makes boxes for export to France, confined in a tight space like a battery hen and facing penalties for taking a toilet break. Slogans such as “if you don’t apply yourself to your job today, you’ll be applying for another job tomorrow” are drilled into her, as humanity comes in a poor second to statistics. A call centre team leader (Solomon Israel) in Dakar puts on his fake Versace suit and gives his team of cold callers French names, even asking them to eat French cuisine and reeling off a list of  replacements for Boeuf Bourguignon when the beef runs out. Globalisation, it seems, steamrollers over national cultures and identities without mercy.

With the narratives vague and linked together only loosely, the play sometimes loses its grip and it feels overlong at 90 minutes. However, Sava’s messages are discomforting and alarming, all the more so as she offers little hope that the course of the globalisation juggernaut can be changed by any of us little people.

Performance date: 5 May 2017

Photo: Dashti Jahfar

⭐️⭐️💫

Helena Rubinstein, pioneer of the cosmetics industry in post-World War II America is a role that fits the inimitable Miriam Margolyes like a glove and, given this dream casting, there seemed every reason to hope that John Misto’s new biographical play would provide sharp insights into a fascinating woman. In the event, Misto is content to make more than half of the play a hilarious bitch-fest involving Mme R and her rival, Elizabeth Arden (Frances Barber), leaving it until very late before starting to probe deep beneath Rubinstein’s well moisturised skin.

With actors of the calibre of Margolyes and Barber spitting out the vitriol to each other, the entertainment value is high and it may seem churlish to complain. However, bitchery is not enough to sustain a play that runs for 125 Minutes (including a completely unnecessary 20 minute interval) when Margolyes does enough to whet the appetite and make us want to know a lot more.  A Jew of Polish origin (or possibly not, as she lied about almost everything in her past), Rubinstein survived Nazi persecution and bad marriages to become a miserly old lady with a rock-hard exterior. Misto structures the play around Rubinstein’s fractious relationship with her gay Irish assistant (Jonathan Forbes) and her encounters (unlikely to have really happened) with Arden; other key characters in Rubinstein’s life are mentioned repeatedly, but never seen and, accepting that the production has budget constraints, there is always a feeling that its scope needs to be expanded in order for its story to be told properly.

Alistair Turner’s set design, dominated by a projected image from a cosmetics ad, also fails to impress. Tables and chairs are hauled on and off by stage hands during overlong breaks between scenes, interrupting the flow and making Jez Bond’s unimaginative production feel stuttering. Yes, the script gives us plenty of laughs and the lines are delivered with the expected aplomb, but the play should have offered so much more.

Performance date: 4 May 2017

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It is August 1981, Mrs Thatcher is in Downing Street, Kim Wilde tops the pop charts, Bobby Sands and other Irish hunger strikers are dying. Jez Butterworth’s devastating new play takes us back to rural County Armagh at the height of the Irish troubles and shows with chilling clarity how violent extremism gets its claws into the lives or ordinary people and refuses to let go.

The farmhouse, the interior of which is realised beautifully in Rob Howell’s stunning set, is home to three generations of the Roman Catholic Carney family. Quinn (Paddy Considine) and his wife Mary (Genevieve O’Reilly) have seven children, all still at home and they have also given refuge to Caitlin (Laura Donnelly), the wife of Quinn’s missing brother Seamus, and her teenage son Oisin (Rob Malone). Under the same roof are Quinn’s Uncle Patrick (Des McAleer) and his two aunts, the near senile Maggie (Brid Brennan) and the bitter and angry Pat (Dearbhia Molloy), who had been a witness to the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin. The drama is triggered when the body of Seamus is found 10 years after it is assumed that he had been executed by the IRA for disloyalty.

A huge cast, many of them children, plus a baby and a rabbit, on the Royal Court’s modestly sized stage causes potential traffic jams, challenges for director Sam Mendes that could make directing a Bond film seem like a breeze. He delivers a production in which exuberant bursts of humour and life contrast with searing intimate exchanges and the spectres of violence and death are always hovering overhead. Quinn, an activist in his youth is now a family man who rebuffs IRA demands for his silence. Considine’s demeanour shows Quinn as a weary man, made so not only by ongoing Irish Republican struggles but also by keeping secret the glowing but forbidden love between himself and Caitlin. Butterworth weaves together intimate personal stories and epic political themes with consummate skill.

The IRA’s grip over the family comes from history, a sense of community and the bullying of their commander, Muldoon (Stuart Graham), who even becomes a moral guardian, displacing an enfeebled church that is personified by the weak and dishonest Father Horrigan (Gerard Horan). The play encompasses fierce ideological arguments, as between Quinn’s pacifist son Michael (Fra Fe) and a potential activist cousin Shane (Tom Glynn-Carney) and lyrical passages, such as Aunt Maggie’s memories of her lost love and Uncle Pat’s recitation from Virgil. Many lighter moments are provided by the simple-minded English-born tenant farmer Tom Kettle (John Hodgkinson), although Butterworth’s contrivances to make him a symbolic figure are perhaps questionable.

This almost flawless production comes straight out of theatre’s top drawer. Running at over three hours, it is far, far too short.

Performance date: 2 May 2017