Reviews

The Interview / Agape's Excess - Review

This double bill, by Robert Hamilton, explored love, and the extremes that people were prepared to go to be loved.

The first play however, Agape's Excess, proved to be a tedious disappointment. It explored how far someone had to go to prove their love – in the first scene it was to the point of death for one person. The next scene featured a couple, sat at their computers, corresponding on line. In the background were a "virtual" couple and between the four of them the same dialogue from the first scene was repeated. In this scene love was not terminated by death but by abandonment when one partner closed down her computer.

The dialogue which started as playful lover's talk, quickly turned into an irritating mantra.

As an acting exercise it produced some fine performances but as a play it failed to satisfy. It was sad that the quality of the acting was not matched by the writing.

Luckily the second play, The Interview, rescued the evening.

When successful novelist, Desiree Martin, encounters a writer's block she interviews Rosalind Seeley, a "resting" actress, with a view to using her as a creative flush.

By participating in a series of improvisations it is hoped that the creative juices will flow again.

That was the opening scenario that playwright, Robert Hamilton, presented. It soon became apparent that there was a much darker and sinister sub plot.

Games, both mind and physical, are played out as the plot twists and turns. The writing shifted easily between black comedy, metaphysical debate and sexual violence climaxing in a splendid piece of Grand Guignol theatre.

Jenny Bridges, as Rosalind, managed well the transition from assured interviewee to terrified victim. But it was Jet Tattersall, as the deranged Desiree, that gave the performance of the evening. She was magnificent, never letting the character's paranoia descend into ludicrous farce.

In addition to giving direction that served the play exceeding well, Helen Caton, also organised the playwriting workshop with Robert Hamilton that followed the end of the run.

 

Barrie Jerram

1 April 2007

Bone - Review

Playwright John Donnelly has created a play from three inter-cutting but unrelated monologues. It can be argued that they do share some common ground – each is full of anger and there are elements of loss in all three.

Helen is a farmer’s wife trying to cope with life now that her husband is no longer with her. The grief of this loss is compounded by the slaughter of her livestock following an outbreak of disease at a neighbour’s farm.

Suicide is very much an option and attempts are made not only by Helen but also by the second character, Stephen.

He is a smug Marketing Manager with problems of communication and commitment. Having lost the love of his life in a self destructive moment he fails to come to terms with the loss and cannot move on. He continues to fantasize about reconciliations.

Alcohol fails to provide any relief so he too looks to suicide as the answer.

There was a strong performance from Sidney Sloane, as Stephen, that brought out the complexities of the character.

Completing the trio is a young solider on the eve of his departure for active service. Jamie is an aggressive, foul mouthed, sexual braggart on a drink fueled night out and looking for yet another conquest. A thoroughly unpleasant character, little deserving of any sympathy, yet Dean Atta managed to evoke some in a scene towards the end of the play - a delicate contrast to the robust performance that preceded it.

As Helen, the character that almost from the start one could feel for, Sinead Gillespie gave a beautiful and moving performance. At times her delivery took on a poetic quality.

Whilst the quality of the acting could be appreciated whole heartedly I suspect that the style of the play itself or its content may not have been to everyone’s liking. It took me quite a while to take to it. It wasn’t helped by the slow start that irritated rather than intrigued. Once it got under way I began to be drawn into the stories being unfolded despite lacking sympathy for the two male characters.

Also I had mixed feelings about the production being a promenade one. Granted that by having the audience standing amidst the actors it enabled them to engage with the characters and their emotions, but there were times when I felt that the rapport was broken by someone being too close to an actor and drawing one’s eyes away.

 

Barrie Jerram

18 February 2007

Outlying Islands - Review

The summer of 1939 sees John and Robert on a remote and almost uninhabited Scottish island. They are there ostensibly to study and record the bird life for their Government Department.

Through their dealings with the island's owner, Kirk, they learn that their masters have a more sinister use for the island – a use that disturbs Robert and leads to violence and tragedy.

The arrival of the two men disturbs more than the birds. It arouses in Ellen, Kirk's niece, a sexual awakening.

There is also humour amongst the play's dark tones with one scene featuring the funniest funeral service ever.

I have to be honest and state that it took me a while to warm to the play and it was not until towards the end of the first act did the play begin to grip. In part it was due to the writing that at times was slightly overblown and irritating.

The main problem was that I found myself distracted by the acting of Matt Lea, as Robert. I accept that the character was a controlling oddball but Matt's physical interpretation was extreme. With eyes constantly bulging and exaggerated body movements it was like watching the acting style of the silent movies.
It was hard to relate to him. A more naturalistic performance was needed and the two directors, Nicholas Richards and Calolm MacGregor, should have helped him to achieve this.

Lionel Clark, as Kirk, gave a good performance despite being saddled by some repetitive lines. He must be commended for the control he exercised when having to lie on stage for so long after dying.

But it was Aimee Laura's delicate portrayal of Ellen that stood out as she took the character from a shy feyness to a bold sexuality. Some of the best moments in the play were the interplay between her and the equally virginal John. Credit for this must also be given to Andy Thomas for capturing the several facets of a gauche and decent man.

Barrie Jerram
10 December 2006

Dinner - Review

Having watched Moira Buffini’s intriguing black comedy I think that I will be declining invitations to dinner parties for a little while.

For her work depicts the dinner party from Hell with a hostess that goes to great pains to ensure success – that is with the pains being inflicted upon her guests.

Imagine a Gothic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Think Abigail’s Party set amongst an intellectual and upper class background with the humiliation and verbal sniping racked up a few gears and you will get some idea of the fare on offer.

And what fare did our hostess have to offer her guests – Primordial Soup made from seaweed with yeast to keep it alive so that it could breed. It had been simmering for three weeks! Lobster Apocalypse with the crustaceans alive for the guests to act as God and decide whether to plunge them into boiling water or to release them into the garden pond. The lobsters almost stole the show. Through clever simulation they silently twitched on the plates.
Frozen Waste, a just dessert comprising items scavenged from the refuse bin, completed her menu.

This study of a disintegrated marriage and revenge may seem tough to digest but it was not. There was plenty of humour to make it palatable as well as strong performances from the entire cast.

As Paige, the hostess, Eleanor Gamper gripped from the off – dressed in shimmering black with a feathery headdress, suggestive of antennae, she was like a predatory insect. Her wild and staring eyes resembled those of a creature hypnotising their prey. Her performance as a woman driven by despair to such bizarre action was finely balanced. She deftly trod a delicate line, never going too far over the top.

Alistair Lock brought out the weakness of Lars, her husband - full of philosophical advice for others about achieving their goals but unable to confront his wife with plans to leave her.

There were times at the beginning of the play when it was difficult to hear some of Gayle Dudley’s softly spoken words, a problem arising from being seated at the dinner table with her back to me. That apart Gayle built up a nicely observed performance as Wynne, the naïve, vegetable loving disciple and lover of Lars. Her performance produced many of the play’s laughs.

Completing the invited guests were Hal, an old friend of Lars, and his new wife, Sian. The underlying brittleness and fragility of their relationship was brought out well by Bob Gilcrest and Kirsty Harbron.

There was one uninvited guest whose presence stirred up a few prejudices. David Williams played Mike with a good sense of comic timing.

As the hired waiter with a hidden agenda Ben Fearnside was suitable sinister. Required to remain silent throughout the action he only had one line to say at the end. Sadly, soft delivery prevented me from hearing it.

It was hard to find fault with the assured direction from Carl Boardman apart from a couple of minor quibbles. Bearing in mind that most of the action required the cast to be seated at the table, the use of the tall vase and flowers in the centre of it proved to be an irritant. It blocked the faces of the actors on the other side of the table, causing them to have to peer round the vase. One hopes that it was changed for subsequent performances.

The other problem was caused by having a slightly raised acting area that was not quite big enough for the action. There were times when actors had to squeeze past chairs rather than stepping off that area.

That said this quality production was another illustration of the high standard that the NV sets itself.

Barrie Jerram

The Memory of Water - Review

Following the death of their mother, three sisters gather at the house to prepare for the funeral.

Teresa is an obsessive and practical self-made martyr; Mary, a doctor nursing a loss from the past and Catherine, who uses drugs and has had sex with 78 men.

There is uneasiness in their relationship and the enforced reunion leads to bickering. They all harbour childhood grudges against not only against each other but also their mother. The play explores their recollections and the fragility of memory. There is confusion over what happened and to whom.

The play is a wonderful blend of hilarious comedy and painful angst that provided a rich and entertaining evening.

Along with a delightful set, the lighting and original music created an appropriate eerie atmosphere. Sensitive direction from Alex McQuillen-Wright was matched with superlative acting.

There was another very fine performance from Eleanor Gamper as Vi, the mother, who appears in the dreams of Mary.

Andy Bell, as the dour Frank, exercised his talent for droll humour whilst Marc Solomon had the un-glamorous task of portraying the weak-willed lover of Mary.

Playing the sisters were an extraordinary talented trio of talented actors.

Alexis Hills excelled as Teresa, particularly in the scene where her drunkenness unleashed pent up fury. It was a master class in playing a drunk – believable and not a caricature.

Laura Bennett managed to capture well the coolness and the vulnerability of Mary. Her final scene with her mother was most moving.

But it was Jett Tattersall that stole the show by giving a brilliant comic portrayal as the zany Catherine – an outrageous child that never grew up. It was a performance of sheer delight.

 

Barrie Jerram

14 October 2006