Tag Archives: Ali Wright

You Stupid Darkness!

★★★

Southwark Playhouse

You Stupid Darkness!

You Stupid Darkness!

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 20th January 2020

★★★

 

“There’s a lot to like in the gentleness of Steiner’s script, but it’s a slow burn that’s really too slow”

 

In a time of political chaos, social turmoil, and environmental catastrophe, it’s easy to feel like the end of the world is right around the corner. It’s no surprise apocalypse stories feel particularly relevant right now.

Sam Steiner’s play, directed by James Grieve, is set in a future, disintegrating Britain. People are more-or-less keeping calm and carrying on despite toxic air, power outages, bridges collapsing, and buildings crumbling. The disaster is never specified – we don’t know whether this is the aftermath of WWIII, the effects of unchecked climate change, or both – but we do know trees are falling and the sea has turned viscous.

Four volunteers meet in a dilapidated call centre one night a week to run an emotional support helpline. Their job is to provide reassurance, although they’re barely holding it together themselves. On top of the world falling apart, Frances (Jenni Maitland) is heavily pregnant at a time when pregnancy is considered misguided or radically optimistic. Jon (Andy Rush) is going through a rough patch in his marriage. Angie (Lydia Larson) makes the best of her difficult upbringing. Joey (Andrew Finnigan), seventeen years old, is facing what feels like a pointless question of applying for university.

It may sound bleak, but Steiner handles the dark subject matter with a refreshingly light touch. While the apocalypse rages outside, the Brightline volunteers do their best to simply get on with the day. They hang up their gas masks when they arrive, attempt to make coffee without a working kettle, deal with perverts on the phones, and reluctantly participate in Frances’ positivity exercises.

The play is a series of small moments. Steiner gives us little window-like scenes through which we see the characters try to make connections with the people on the phones and each other, conversations hinting at personal lives and troubles beyond the office walls. There’s a lot to like in the gentleness of Steiner’s script, but it’s a slow burn that’s really too slow. Without much in the way of story, the two-hour runtime feels very long. Steiner’s scenes may be delicate and perceptive, but they lack momentum. And while the characters are strong, and well-performed by a talented cast, the show needs the backbone of a plot to help support its length.

Amy Jane Cook’s astute design presents the call centre as a little haven from the desolation outside, held together purely by blind optimism and denial. Everywhere signs of deterioration are refusing to be acknowledged. Gaping holes in the walls are covered up by motivational posters. Frances stubbornly tacks them back up each time they fall down. A whiteboard enthusiastically displays the word of the week (‘Communication’ ‘Optimism’). Intense storm winds blowing snow-like debris occasionally blast open the door. When the call centre floods, the stage fills with water. But when Frances fills the space with candles, the scene conveys a powerful sense of hope. The message of perseverance, resilience, and hope, no matter how irrational, will undoubtedly resonate with anyone feeling overwhelmed by the world today.

You Stupid Darkness! is a show full of heart and humour about the end of the world. A distinctive, insightful script with something to say – it’s a shame it’s missing a trick.

 

Reviewed by Addison Waite

Photography by Ali Wright

 


You Stupid Darkness!

Southwark Playhouse until 22nd February

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Afterglow | ★★★½ | June 2019
Fiver | ★★★★ | July 2019
Dogfight | ★★★★ | August 2019
Once On This Island | ★★★ | August 2019
Preludes | ★★★★ | September 2019
Islander | ★★★★★ | October 2019
Superstar | ★★★★ | November 2019
Potted Panto | ★★★★ | December 2019
Cops | ★★★★★ | January 2020

 

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Coming Clean

★★★★

Trafalgar Studios

Coming Clean

Coming Clean

Trafalgar Studios

Reviewed – 10th January 2020

★★★★

 

“Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s production is atmospheric, moving and hugely enjoyable”

 

Screamingly funny and surprisingly moving, Coming Clean is an eighties anthem to love, friendship and the pain of infidelity. The play premiered in 1982, at the end of the more carefree pre-AIDS era when gay men didn’t have to think about that kind of danger. It’s a domestic drama, centred on the life of Tony and Greg, a couple who have what appears to be a stable non-monogamous relationship. Their neighbour and friend William is a party animal and disco queen, cruising and fucking his way round London’s gay scene. He is played with a glorious camp panache by Elliot Hadley, who also manages to convey the warmth and vulnerability beneath William’s outrageous surface. Hadley also makes a hilarious appearance, at the end of the play, as Jurgen, a leather clad German who Tony has brought home for sex. Tony and Greg, played by Lee Knight and Stanton Plummer-Cambridge, are a believable couple who live in Greg’s Kentish Town flat. Their fifth anniversary is coming up and all seems to be well until Tony hires a cleaner. When the cleaner arrives he turns out to be Robert, an attractive out of work actor. And we are on our way to a love triangle.

Lee Knight is superb as Tony, deeply in love with Greg but frustrated by his role as the one who does the housework and his problems with his writing. He is butterfly-like in his subtle mood shifts, becoming a little different depending who he is with, enjoying William’s camp bravado and Greg’s stable strength. Stanton Plummer-Cambridge’s Greg is focussed and taciturn; he can’t tell a joke and is irritated when things don’t go his way. But the two men are OK together, despite some sexual issues, until Robert arrives in their lives. Jonah Rzeskiewicz gives Robert a young, almost puppy like, enthusiasm and a pinch of endearing nervousness. He seems too sweet to be the cause of the pain to come.

The action all takes place in the flat, a perfect reincarnation of an eighties pad, created by designer Amanda Mascarenhas. From the rug on the floor to the Thriller poster on the wall it’s an evocation of a world when a pint of beer cost 90p and Kentish Town was an affordable place to live. The eighties music, and the classical records on the record player keep us firmly in the right time and place. Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s production is atmospheric, moving and hugely enjoyable. It is also nostalgically sad, because from our twenty-first century viewpoint we can see the looming shadow of the coming AIDS epidemic and the terrible suffering it brought to the gay community.

Kevin Elyot’s writing is sharp and witty and, although he uses some standard tropes, a partner returning home early, only to find his lover ‘at it’ with someone else, there is also a depth and understanding of the pain of infidelity that, with credit to Knight’s portrayal, is almost visceral. There is surprisingly little reference to the difficulties of being gay in 1982, Tony and Greg’s relationship being seemingly undisturbed by the outside world. It is only William’s attack that introduces a harsher societal context to the work.

 

Reviewed by Katre

Photography by Ali Wright

 


Coming Clean

Trafalgar Studios until 1st February

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
A Hundred Words For Snow | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Admissions | ★★★ | March 2019
Scary Bikers | ★★★★ | April 2019
Vincent River | ★★★★ | May 2019
Dark Sublime | ★★★ | June 2019
Equus | ★★★★★ | July 2019
Actually | ★★★★ | August 2019
The Fishermen | ★★★½ | September 2019
A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg | ★★ | October 2019
The Girl Who Fell | ★★★★ | October 2019

 

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