Old Red Lion Theatre
Reviewed – 29th May 2019
“Despite its flaws, Flinch is a compelling piece of theatre and it is hard not to get invested in the young couple’s drama”
The comedy Flinch, directed by Rosalind Brody and written by Emma Hemingford, intimately explores the failing relationship between young couple Mark (Joe Reed) and Jessica (Emma Hemingford). Mark works as a trader in the City and Jessica is a struggling actress who has just moved to London to live with Mark after three years of dating. After Mark flinches away when a drunk man (Andrew Armitage) threatens Jessica with a ‘gun-shaped banana’ on their first night in their new flat, issues relating to emasculation, failure and the struggle for intimacy in their relationship are quickly exposed.
The play consists of domestic scenes between the young couple, all of which end in heated arguments. These scenes are separated by brief blackouts and harsh red lighting in which Reed, Hemingford and Armitage move in slow motion enacting several outcomes of Armitage’s fruity attack. In one interlude, Reed heroically saves Hemingford from Armitage’s clutches. In another, Armitage viciously chokes Hemingford with Reed nowhere to be seen. The disparity of these scenes shows just how different the couple remember the night in question and highlights their inability to see things from the other person’s point of view. The lighting for the rest of the play is very bright which perhaps represents the spotlight being shone on this dysfunctional relationship.
Reed and Hemingford have little chemistry which for the most part serves the play well. Mark and Jessica are clearly bad for each other and their views on the world, relationships and the future are wildly different. This lack of chemistry however also made it quite difficult to understand how they had ever been a couple in the first place even when they do reminisce about their early romance. The couple are hugely unlikeable, and it is hard for the audience to be sympathetic to their plight considering the lack of effort on both sides to make things work. Regardless, Reed and Hemingford are strong actors and are at their best when monologuing.
The set is not particularly complex, but the space is used well. A raised square stage is backed by a set of cupboards filled with coats, food, toiletries and books which helps to expand the space beyond the dining room table set at the centre of the stage. This does also however mean that the actors often have their backs to the audience which is mildly frustrating in a play where facial expression is of the upmost importance. In addition, Reed and Hemingford frequently step off the raised stage onto the theatre floor which helps to foster greater intimacy between the audience and the quarrelling couple.
Despite its flaws, Flinch is a compelling piece of theatre and it is hard not to get invested in the young couple’s drama. Flinch is a poignant reminder of how easily things can fall apart and a great advocation for the importance of interpersonal communication.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Ali Wright
Old Red Lion Theatre until 15th June
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 4th April 2019
“A fresh, compellingly surreal exploration of an underworld that deserves a stage and discussion. It’s frustrating the story is so convoluted”
When school teacher Chris is accused of sexual assault by a past Grindr hook-up, he spirals into a depression that lands him at a shady chemsex party. A mysterious stranger warns Chris to go home, but depressed and alone, Chris decides to stay, whatever the consequences.
Written by Timothy Graves, and directed by Peter Taylor, Among Angels brings us to the darkest side of London’s gay party scene. It’s a world of syringes and pipes, sugar daddies and questionable consent, where love is sneered at and sex is an expression of self-hatred. The play’s disorienting transitions, stark lighting (Jordan Moffatt), and spoken word full of religious references and Bible verses, create the sense of a paranoid high. Graves and Taylor have placed us in a world of the gritty unreal, where angels walk in drug dens. The show is a fresh, compellingly surreal exploration of an underworld that deserves a stage and discussion. It’s frustrating the story is so convoluted.
A bit of purposeful disorientation can be effective. However, Graves’ script is so dense and difficult to follow, the confusion detracts from the experience. The story begins with Chris (Stephen Papaioannou) being arrested for sexual assault. Then suddenly he’s at a chemsex party with Pete (Christopher Hardcastle) and Adam (Tommy Papaioannou). It’s a very long scene. We don’t know who Pete and Adam are, and apparently neither does Chris. Their banter is aimless, and the play feels stalled. Why is Chris there? Why are we spending so much time with these random characters?
The story seems to have disappeared entirely until Jamie (Kieran Faulkner) appears, warning Chris to leave. But then a flashback abandons Chris completely. There’s a lot about Jamie being a ghost/angel, but not enough about why or how he’s been haunting/guarding Chris. The afterlife – hastily explained in chaotic scenes that oddly intertwine with fourth wall-breaking acknowledgement of the theatre (the characters suddenly aware they’re in a play) – makes very little sense.
The sexual assault charge is forgotten until near the end when we suddenly see the victim giving his testimony. The play’s description says Chris is “falsely accused”, but when the victim tells his story, there’s no suggestion he’s lying, and no explanation for why he would lie. The meaning of this scene is lost. Also shoved into the end is a storyline that Chris and Jamie have had an unseen/unspoken relationship for years, that Chris’s passion is acting, and that Jamie was a promising cellist.
It’s messy, confusing storytelling. Graves spends far too long on empty, establishing material in the first half, and then tries to cram everything of importance into the second. The last fifteen minutes is a whirlwind of muddled melodrama.
Among Angels is highly relevant, exposing light on a shadowy subject that’s perhaps more immediately dangerous to young people than many realise. A sharp outside eye to cut and reorganise could give this play real potential.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography by Craig Fuller
Courtyard Theatre until 27th April
Previously reviewed at this venue: