Reviewed – 24th August 2019
“Ola Ince’s direction has facilitated exceptional performances from all the cast”
It’s difficult to believe Appropriate was written over eight years ago; it seems so precisely pointed at the current ‘post-truth’ culture ushered in by climate change deniers, flat-Earthers, and boggling accusations of fake news that you’d think Branden Jacobs-Jenkins had penned it within the past few months. There’s even a remark about a Supreme Court judge which seems to perfectly tie in with the controversy involving Brett Kavanaugh less than a year ago. It must instead be a testament to the inescapable and unflinching truths that Jacobs-Jenkins’ writing brings centre-stage that the play has so much to reflect on in 2019.
Appropriate focuses around the Lafayettes, a staggeringly dysfunctional family forced to convene to deal with their recently-deceased father’s immensely unkempt plantation house. Comprised of the argumentative and devoted Toni (Monica Dolan), pragmatic yet money-driven Bo (Steven Mackintosh), and fraught recovering addict Franz (Edward Hogg), tensions rise to extreme levels over the ghosts of their pasts, as they are forced to reconcile with the notion that – being a plantation owner – their father may not have been as good a man as they’d initially thought. The insecurities and inherited generational ignorance are exacerbated further by Toni’s reclusive son Rhys (Charles Furness), Franz’s notably younger fiancée River (Tafline Steen), and Bo’s mothering wife Rachael (Jaimi Barbakoff) and teenage daughter Cassie (Isabella Pappas) who’s determined to be treated like an adult. Each character feels like they’ve been perfectly crafted to prod and provoke the others in ways that are a joy to watch.
Ola Ince’s direction has facilitated exceptional performances from all the cast, although Dolan is particularly noteworthy as the ferocious epicentre of most of the play’s conflict, constantly finding new texture and nuance to bring to her numerous embittered tirades, imbuing a sense of vulnerability that is slowly revealed. That’s not to say that Jacobs-Jenkins’ script doesn’t give every character a chance to shine; Furness and Pappas, for example, share a sensitive and poignant scene reflecting on the buzz of the cicadas surrounding the house – a cacophony brought to life by Donato Wharton’s claustrophobic sound design. Other design elements are equally exceptional, such as the Lafayettes’ late father’s hoarding realised brilliantly in the overwhelmingly creaky and creepy set from Fly Davis.
Despite that Appropriate is framed primarily as a family drama, there are also undercurrents of horror – characters feel presences, lightbulbs flicker, and objects move of their own volition when no-one’s in the room. It gave the impression that these two genres were going to collide spectacularly in the play’s climax, but it unfortunately fizzles out in an underwhelming montage. It’s a shame to end on such a forgettable note, because Appropriate is otherwise an urgent wake-up call to how the way we remember the past could be cataclysmic for the future.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Photography by Marc Brenner
Donmar Warehouse until 5th October
Last ten shows covered by this reviewer:
The Box of Delights
Wilton’s Music Hall
Reviewed – 5th December 2018
“this endlessly inventive production delights in bewitching us at every turn”
To arrive at Wilton’s on a dark winter’s night is to open a veritable box of delights even before the performance begins. There is something magical about making your way there; about the lights streaming from the windows of this shabby-genteel 19th century frontage in an otherwise sparsely-lit patch of East London. Stepping inside is like stepping into an alternative reality; a feeling compounded yesterday evening by the delicious, festive smell of Christmas spices. All this served as the perfect introduction to Piers Torday’s theatrical adaption of John Masefield’s classic children’s book, The Box of Delights.
The book, written in 1935, tells the story of Kay Harker – orphaned in a fire six years prior to the action – and his extremely adventurous few days staying with his guardian and two other children in the run up to Christmas. In time-honoured Edwardian fashion, the three children are left alone and have to foil the Machiavellian machinations of some dangerous adults and save the day. This time, dark magic is on the loose, and nothing less than the future of Christmas itself is at stake. To add to the fun, Masefield also sprinkles the book with references to some of the zeitgeisty thrills of the thirties – a gang of jewel thieves, machine guns and jazz.
As evidenced by the extraordinary success of the Harry Potter stories, magic has not lost its power to entrance, and this endlessly inventive production delights in bewitching us at every turn. Tom Piper’s production design is terrific, and the lighting (Anna Watson), video (Nina Dunn) and sound (Ed Lewis) work together in perfect harmony to immerse us in the story’s captivating blend of wonder, menace and Christmas cheer. So much of this production’s success depends on the element of surprise, that too much description would be detrimental to its power to entertain, but suffice it to say that some of the show’s most memorable moments involve Samuel Wyer’s marvellous puppet design. The puppets are fabulous in themselves, and are brought to life by the cast in some unexpected ways throughout the evening. Special mention must go here to Molly Roberts’ wonderful skill in bringing Cole Hawlings’ frisky terrier so perfectly to life.
The eight-strong cast perform with brio throughout, and drive the play forward with a tremendous amount of appeal and energy, which helps to cover the occasional moments in which the script loses pace. Theo Ancient’s Kay, though occasionally over-earnest, is a likeable lad, and Samuel Simmonds is splendid as the sweet but slightly swotty Peter. Sara Stewart excels in the double role of Pouncer and Caroline Louisa – alternately oozing evil sex appeal and emanating slightly dotty charm – and Nigel Betts’ truly frightening Abner Brown provides the drama with a necessary dose of tangible menace.
The production is very much one of two halves, with the post-interval half substantially less wondrous and frightening than the first, and with many more nods to panto. This shift in balance seems rather a shame, and also somewhat takes away from the impact of the play’s denouement, but this is a small quibble. Overall, Justin Audibert (director) and his talented team have created a shimmering enchantment of a show, perfect for a Christmas treat.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Nobby Clarke
The Box of Delights
Wilton’s Music Hall until 5th January
Previously reviewed at this venue: