Tomorrow at Noon
Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed – 1st May 2018
“these three jewels of plays sparkle like the brightest stars”
Tomorrow at Noon consists of three short plays written in response to Noel Coward’s Tonight at 8.30. Tom Littler, the Artistic Director of the Jermyn Street Theatre says that he has ‘always been fascinated by the idea of theatre as conversation,’ and the ‘conversation’ between these plays and Coward’s originals is a fascinating and successful one. There are many new plays being performed in London theatres at the moment, and in this firmament of creation these three jewels of plays sparkle like the brightest stars. All three are beautifully written and were chosen from the three hundred and ninety submissions received in a competition launched last year.
Smite is written by Morna Young, in response to Coward’s ‘The Astonished Heart.’ We see two women in a room having an awkward conversation. We don’t know what their relationship is, who they are. It is the way this relationship is gradually revealed that holds the attention so well. Laura Morgan is superb as Allie, the younger woman. She is totally convincing, funny, vulnerable and strong. Laila Pyne is less credible as the older, artistic woman, partly because she does not look old enough for the part, the age difference between the two women in the play is important, and this casting does not serve it well. Pyne is, however, excellent in the other two plays. The set is a simple evocation of a luxury apartment, and works well, but the use of sudden blackout and loud music to signify the passage of time is intrusive and unnecessary. Young has taken the basic elements of Coward’s story and created a play that is contemporary and relevant, very different from the original but true to its essence. In her introduction to the play, Young says ‘I have challenged myself to write a feminist play featuring two women talking about an absent man. On paper it would fail the Bechdel test. My aim was to look beyond the individual man but, rather, at our societal stuctures.’ She succeeded.
The Thing Itself by Emma Harding is set in rural Iceland during a volcanic eruption that has blacked out the daylight. It is a response to Coward’s ‘Shadow Play.’ A woman, Vic, is drinking in a bar when her partner, Simone, comes in. It is not immediately obvious that they are a couple, and things get more interesting when the subject of divorce is raised. Elaine Claxton’s Vic is immediately likable and interesting, holding it together with vodka and humour, she is preoccupied with an incident from the past and a heavy responsibility she feels. Laila Pyne’s Simone is American, vivacious and interesting. There is a lot of delicious humour and real emotional engagement. When Simone leaves the stage Laura Morgan enters as Hanna. She identifies herself as a figment of Vic’s imagination. There is, perhaps, an echo of Coward’s ‘Blithe Spirit’ here, a ghost, or an imagining can both change us. Harding says that she chose to write a response to ‘Shadow Play’ because she was ‘drawn to this lack of certainty, as well as the metaphorical possibilities of its title. After all, shadows contain things that are hidden or half understood, or that have yet to reveal themselves. They contain secrets, guilt and doubts.’ Hanna sits at the edge of the stage, watching. Her arrival has changed things for Vic and Simone and we are never entirely sure what is real and what is not, a tantalising uncertainty that works really well. The set is, again, simple but evocative of place and the flickering lights and sounds that convey change work this time, as they are subtle and purposeful.
Glimpse is written by Jenny Ayres as a response to Coward’s ‘Still Life.’ The stage is transformed into a railway station in the mid nineteen nineties and Clarke, the station supervisor, played by Laila Pyne, is cleaning up vomit when Elaine Claxton’s Mags arrives. She sits on a bench and settles to wait. She has many bags and a shopping trolley. A very hungover young woman, Laura Morgan, is discovered by Clarke, and dumped next to Mags on the seat. As the play evolves we see a touching relationship between three very different women. Clarke is hard working and anxious for her promotion, but also protective of Mags. Morgan’s Woman returns to the station to thank the other two for helping her. Mags waits. Elaine Claxton’s performance as Mags is quite wonderful, and a complete contrast with her portrayal of Vic in ‘The Thing Itself.’ Mags is touching, hilarious, infuriating and someone we immediately want to know more about. This is the stand out performance of the evening. The set is convincing and atmospheric, and the ingenious use of lighting and sound to show the trains passing works well. Ayres says that she set the play in the mid nineties against the background of rail privatisation because she ‘wanted to create an atmosphere of change both on a personal and a national level.’ A choice that works beautifully.
All three pieces are directed by Stella Powell-Jones with a lightness of touch and sensitivity that allows the actors to shine. Louise Whitemore’s sets are perfectly judged to evoke the different atmosphere of the three plays and Emily Stuart’s costume design works well within the context of the time periods. Tim Mascall and Tom Attwood’s lighting and sound design, apart from the jarring moments in the first play, complement and add to the set and atmosphere.
This is a delightful and worthwhile evening of theatre and I hope that all three plays go on to be seen by a wider audience.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Robert Workman
Tomorrow at Noon
Jermyn Street Theatre until 15th May
Also at this venue