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Bricks of the Wall


Etcetera Theatre

Bricks of the Wall

Bricks of the Wall

Etcetera Theatre

Reviewed – 18th January 2019

 

“it’s immediately apparent that the acting from this energetic cast can’t match up to the plot’s soaring aspirations”

 

Brexit’s impact will certainly be studied through theatre. There are myriad opportunities for thoughtful examinations and retellings. Unfortunately Bricks of the Wall is not one of them, lacking the nuance required to meaningfully contribute to the debate.

The premise is appealing. I’ll skimp on detail so as not to foreshadow the plot twists in this 75-minute piece, but suffice to say that the night opens with what the programme tells us is a ‘fabulous dinner party in London’ and ends in extraordinary violence.

So far, so interesting, then, and certainly amidst the Brexit chaos it felt apt to see what might unfold in this theatrical thought experiment. But it’s immediately apparent that the acting from this energetic cast can’t match up to the plot’s soaring aspirations. The writing, too, lacks subtlety – especially disappointing, given the political subject matter is so subtle and complex.

Our writer and lead, Sophie Pâris, especially frustrates as Isabelle. The flaws of this character are symptomatic of wider character development issues. She fluctuates between being sympathetic, pleading for calm when tensions run high, and insufferable – gurning, weeping and wailing. The relationship between Isabelle and her husband Neb (Julien Romano) seems equally as muddled and acting is over-seasoned in all cases, with only Romano showing real light and dark. Even this is undermined by an unconvincingly rapid descent into barbarism that sees him floridly maniacal.

The staging also offers no port in a storm here. The set is necessarily basic, and that’s more than acceptable – but lazy shortcuts become distracting. It’s asking a lot of audiences to imagine they’re watching a chic dinner party when shown ‘homemade’ pre-meal nibbles in the form of unpeeled satsumas and whole bunches of grapes. If pre-dinner fruit is a thing, I’m (mercifully) yet to experience it. Silly details niggle; characters bemoan their acute hunger after a day under martial law while a large tray of Ferrero Rocher sits on full view stage left throughout.

Let’s be clear: audiences go into these small theatres (the Etcetera Theatre is above a busy Camden pub) under no illusions. It’s understood that space and budget constraints mean disbelief must be suspended. But help should be given to support these enthusiastic audiences in this and the intimacy of the room, where actors operate almost in their audience’s laps, should be respected. The closing scenes here fail to pay due deference to audience proximity and the neglect of choreography is a mistake.

The movement here feels, well, chaotic, and not in an intentional way. Actors stalk the stage clumsily or untidily, confusing the audience and eroding any steer about who should be holding our attention. Crescendos of sustained, overlapping shouting leave us stumped about what’s being communicated. We understand that we’re seeing a depiction of political and moral panic, but there are ways to represent this that avoid confronting your viewers with a maelstrom of sound and action without apparent direction.

In a week of momentous political turmoil, a night of theatre scrutinising how we got here and what happens next should offer the perfect tonic. Sadly this production only adds to the chaos.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

 


Bricks of the Wall

Etcetera Theatre until 19th January

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Too Young to Stay in | ★★★ | August 2018
Your Molotov Kisses | ★★★★ | August 2018
Bully | ★★★★ | September 2018
Little by Little | ★★ | September 2018
The Break-up Autopsy | ★★★★ | October 2018
Never Swim Alone | ★★★★ | November 2018
Rats | | November 2018
Vol 2.0 | ★★★ | November 2018
Jailbirds | ★★ | December 2018
The Very Well-Fed Caterpillar | ★★★★ | December 2018

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

Gentleman Jack
★★★★

Jack Studio Theatre

Gentleman Jack

Gentleman Jack

Jack Studio Theatre

Reviewed – 17th January 2019

★★★★

 

“Arrows and Traps’ adaptation of her diaries balances its positive and negative aspects to great effect”

 

In 1880, aspiring politician John Lister (Alex Stevens) discovers a collection of diaries written and encoded by a distant relation. But when he and his friend Arthur (Tom Hartill) set about deciphering them, the author could not contrast more sharply with their expectations. Anne Lister was known as “Gentleman Jack”: a coal mine owner, an adventurer, an unabashed chronicler of her affairs with women. Back then, she was an eccentric; today, she is known as ‘the first modern lesbian’.

Given her place in British LGBT history, it would be easy to romanticise or simplify Lister’s story. But Arrows and Traps’ adaptation of her diaries balances its positive and negative aspects to great effect. Skipping between her youth and the last decade of her life, writer/director Ross McGregor shows Anne’s intelligence and tenacity: she is fluent in Ancient Greek, well-travelled, and extremely determined. But he also highlights the practical dilemmas she faces, such as debt, and the aggressive single-mindedness that inhibits her progress. Her wit, confidence, and kindness are emphasised alongside her coldness and cruelty towards the women she loves. Anne is not a saintly hero who triumphs, through sheer force of will, over her male detractors: she is highly complex, succeeding and failing in equal measure, but always learning from her mistakes.

McGregor’s script is well-structured and effectively shows Anne’s development from a brash idealist into a serious businesswoman. The frequent change of time period is shown via backscreen projections, whilst the set is simple and versatile enough to work for any era. A long table quite easily becomes a bed or hill; Alistair Lax’s subtle use of sound provides a sense of atmosphere. This allows the scenes to feel real without being overdone, and draws all the focus onto the actors.

Lucy Ioannou plays the young Anne with confidence and flair, investing scenes with humour and energy. Cornelia Baumann, as her older counterpart, shows the same flair, but also provides a sense of maturity and warmth. Despite their differences, the two Anne’s match each other well and are very believably the same person. Of the supporting cast, Laurel Marks’ Tib Norcliffe is a highlight. Marks is both naturally funny and adept at showing Tib’s hidden depths, making her a well-rounded character as opposed to mere comic relief. Hannah Victory’s grounded performance as Ann Walker is a great contrast to Baumann’s; Alex Stevens’ sensitive readings from Anne’s diaries highlight her talent as a writer.

It is only fitting that a woman who was so open and outspoken should be portrayed in such an uncensored way. Gentleman Jack more than does justice to Anne Lister, and serves as a reminder of her extraordinary legacy, bold character and, ultimately, her humanity.

 

Reviewed by Harriet Corke

Photography by Davor Tovarlaza

 


Gentleman Jack

Jack Studio Theatre until 19th February

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Kes | ★★★★★ | May 2018
The Night Alive | ★★★½ | May 2018
Stepping Out | ★★★ | June 2018
Back to Where | ★★★★ | July 2018
The White Rose | ★★★★ | July 2018
Hobson’s Choice | ★★★★ | September 2018
Dracula | ★★★½ | October 2018
Radiant Vermin | ★★★★ | November 2018
Sweet Like Chocolate Boy | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Cinderella | ★★★ | December 2018

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com