“There is an elegance to all the performances that skilfully navigate the plot twists with boundless energy”
You’re familiar with the platitude; ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’. I’ve never really agreed with the expression. Or rather with the inference that the ‘first impression’ is permanent, and cannot be overridden. Impressions always evolve. Often rapidly. Trevor Nunn’s production of “The Third Man” reinforces my opinion.
We walk into a transformed auditorium. Paul Farnsworth’s powerfully evocative set recreates the monochrome decay of post-war Vienna. The musical strains of the zither clashes with, but also sharpens, the tension. It is a familiar sound, reassuring yet haunting. The dusky mood is established as lost souls wander through the blackened city. Holly Martins, a bankrupt ‘hack’ novelist, wanders into the debris looking for his old friend Harry Lime. Ignoring the smoky undertones, he incongruously bursts into song. “This is Vienna… not like the movies”. It is almost as if we are being instructed to resist the impulse to compare this stage adaptation to the original 1949 iconic film. Which is sound advice.
Sam Underwood convincingly portrays Holly Martin, lost in a sea of intrigue; and driven to the brink and to drink. Discovering that his old friend has been killed in a car ‘accident’, he smells a rat and decides to pursue it with a feline tenacity. Edward Baker-Duly’s upper crust, hard-headed military policeman, Major Calloway, continually tries to throw him off the scent. Everyone has something to hide, especially the initially affable Baron Kurtz (a sinister Gary Milner). There is an elegance to all the performances that skilfully navigate the plot twists with boundless energy, but the pace and focus are severely hindered by the music and lyrics.
It is as though the composer, lyricist and writer worked in separate rooms, only coming together at the last minute. Nobody got the memo, it seems, and the result is a bit like channel hopping, only we’re not in control of the remote. Just as our interest is being drawn into the dialogue, we suddenly find ourselves in a song that has sprung from nowhere. And just as you are in the shadowy world of film noir, you suddenly catch yourself fluttering among the pages of a Mills and Boon. George Fenton’s score is undeniably impressive, but it is the underscoring that stands out and evokes the true atmosphere of the piece. The musical numbers themselves appear to have been plucked off the shelf.
Nevertheless, the staging is quite majestic, and Nunn draws out excellent performances from his cast. Natalie Dunne, as Anna Schmidt, gives a very watchable, husky and cool performance as Harry Lime’s grieving girlfriend. Her commitment is unwavering – it is her solo numbers that, despite being moments of beauty, are wondering what they are doing here. Part of the answer lies in the choice of Schmidt being a cabaret singer instead of an actor, but it is a contrived decision.
The major plot twist is weakened by the libretto, even in the face of Simon Bailey’s natural charm as the morally dubious Harry Lime. Yet it is hard to believe that the character can elicit the levels of emotion that are trying to be conveyed. Normally song should be able to express a feeling better than putting it into words. “The Third Man” is billed as a musical thriller, but it should have opted for one or the other.
“It makes no sense at all” Holly Martin sings as we approach the finale. We can’t help agreeing with the sentiment. Paradoxically, however, it is an enjoyable and finely crafted piece of theatre. That does make sense, given the weight of expertise and experience of the individuals behind its creation. It needs more time and thought to bring it together. Ultimately, “The Third Man” deserves a second chance to correct the first impression.
“Ellis’ text is for the most part honest and sensitive in its portrayal, highlighting the importance of seeking help”
Nathan Ellis’ new play, Super High Resolution, which follows a junior A&E doctor as she struggles to cope with the daily stressors in her professional and personal life, finds its strength in a biting wit and well-timed comedic moments. Jasmine Blackborow portrays Anna, the play’s central figure, with sharpness and dexterity. Anna is worn thin by her sister (Leah Whitaker), her demanding boss (Catherine Cusack), and a difficult patient (Hayley Carmichael), in scenes that are equal parts pacey and tense. Director Blanche McIntyre gives these scenes space to breathe, allowing humour to seep into the play’s pervasive darkness and unease.
Andrew D Edwards’ set, in conjunction with Prema Mehta’s lighting design, creates a cold and impersonal environment. In the opening stage picture, harsh neon light washes over accordions of hospital curtains, lending the impression of metal shipping containers. The stagecraft feels appropriate in light of the continual gutting of the NHS.
It is a shame then, that to me, it feels Super High Resolution misses the mark in its handling of themes of suicide and self-harm.
I want to be clear that the production got a lot of things right. Its content warnings were detailed and clear, and the resources it lists on the play’s promotional material, both for mental health services and NHS workers, are extensive (these are shown at the end of this review). Super High Resolution does not seek to romanticise suicide either, and Ellis’ text is for the most part honest and sensitive in its portrayal, highlighting the importance of seeking help. The production, however, loses sight of this sensitivity and falls out of step with Samaritans’ guidelines in its depiction of a suicide attempt onstage. Not only is the method clearly portrayed, but the scene is noticeably drawn out, and its accompanying lighting and sound design make clear that it is intended to be the play’s climax.
In my opinion, this framing crosses a line. The play would have, in all likelihood, maintained its emotional impact without an onstage depiction, or a climactic attempt altogether. In addition, the theme of suicide (and descriptions/depictions therein) seems to be buttressing a play about the gutting of the NHS and the toll it has taken on medical professionals, not the other way around.
There is obviously a spectrum of opinions on how suicide should be handled in the medium of live performance, and Super High Resolution is far from the worst offender. It is clear that Ellis, McIntyre and the rest of the production team care about the issue, and that the play does not solely seek to cash in on shock value. But the play could have, and should have, approached the issue with more caution and sensitivity.
If SUPER HIGH RESOLUTION has affected you, the following resources are available; we encourage you to make use of them.
Clicking each logo will take you to the relevant website
You can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone), email [email protected] or visit some branches in person.
If you’re experiencing a mental health problem or supporting someone else, you can call SANEline on 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm–10.30pm every day)
Offers a supportive listening service to anyone with thoughts of suicide. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK on 0800 689 5652 (open 24/7)
You can call the CALM on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm–midnight every day) if you are struggling and need to talk. Or if you prefer not to speak on the phone, you could try the CALM webchat service.
If you would prefer not to talk but want some mental health support, you could text SHOUT to 85258. Shout offers a confidential 24/7 text service providing support if you are in crisis and need immediate help.
If you’re under 35 and struggling with suicidal feelings, or concerned about a young person who might be struggling, you can call Papyrus HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141 (weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends 2pm-10pm and bank holidays 2pm–10pm), email [email protected] or text 07786 209 697.
For NHS workers
Wellbeing support by text for health and social care staff
All NHS staff can access free support by text 24/7. Text FRONTLINE to 85258 to talk by text with a trained volunteer.
Wellbeing support by telephone for health and social care staff
NHS staff in England can call 0800 069 6222 and NHS staff in Wales can call 0800 484 0555, daily from 7am–11pm.
Counselling and trauma phone helpline
Call 0300 303 4434, free and in confidence, 8am to 8pm 7 days a week.
Practitioner Health have teamed up with SHOUT to create a confidential 24/7 text service for PH patients. If you need support after hours you can Text NHSPH to 85258.
Practitioner Health is a free, confidential NHS primary care mental health and addiction service with expertise in treating health & care professionals.