Tag Archives: Jack McNamara

THE BOUNDS

★★★

Royal Court

THE BOUNDS at the Royal Court

★★★

“The stakes in The Bounds are high, and there’s more than the outcome of a soccer game at risk”

The Bounds is an ambitious attempt to create a historical drama out of the origins of soccer. It’s a well chosen subject, given that the game has been a national obsession for centuries. And it’s no great stretch to imagine a form of the soccer that included a pitch that could stretch for miles, a match that could last days, and players willing to risk their lives for a chance to bring immortal glory to their team. Playwright Stewart Pringle also includes a sketched in backdrop of Tudor politics, both spiritual and secular, and a sprinkling of apocalyptic visions. That’s the gist of The Bounds, now on at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs.

The Bounds begins well. We are introduced to Percy and Rowan, a couple of working class soccer players, who are determined that this will be the year that their village of Allendale finally triumphs over their arch rivals in Catton. The fact that they haven’t won in a long time does not deter their enthusiasm. Or the fact that they are on the outer peripheries of the game, miles from any action. As the good natured banter between Percy and his friend Rowan continues, we realize that these two are more like soccer fans in the stands, than players in the game. That’s Tudor soccer for you. When a third character, a classic outsider both in dress and address, enters, these two are naturally suspicious. And, this being Tudor times, accusations of witchcraft, popery and perversion start flying. When Samuel admits that he’s a college graduate (from Oxford, no less) he doesn’t help his case. Percy and Rowan, well educated in the signs of omens and portents, know that he is bad news, for all his educated ways. In this mismatched trio, all the rivalries of north versus south, working class versus middle class, and Protestantism versus Catholicism, come spilling out in a variety of ugly ways. What has all this to do with soccer? It’s a good question.

 

 

Unfortunately, the broad brush of Pringle’s own vision for his play is hampered by the fact that he has to work within the confines of a small space in the Theatre Upstairs, and with only four actors. These constraints wouldn’t have stopped the playwrights of the Tudor era, but we are in a less poetic age (in drama, at least). Where iambic pentameter could sketch a world in a few lines, we moderns tend to rely on the overuse of monosyllabic expletives. Pringle’s pared down dialogue and sketched in characters are entertaining, but with such serious subject matter as soccer and politics under discussion, the inventiveness in this piece starts to run out a while before the end of the play. Rather like the soccer game that the trio are observing.

The stakes in The Bounds are high, and there’s more than the outcome of a soccer game at risk. And that’s really where The Bounds ends up. It turns out that there are more important things than soccer games going on in Allendale. Pringle almost casually introduces us to the theme of boundaries being redrawn in The Bounds, but this is the masterstroke of Tudor strategy that echoes down the centuries, robbing local people of their spaces, and even their identities. It’s easy to see how the limitless game of soccer in Tudor times becomes the rule bound play of the modern game, confined within a single pitch of a predetermined size, and time constraints that don’t allow much flexibility. Pringle suggests that the unstructured nature of the ancient game had more freedom, despite the anarchy of play.

The actors, Soroosh Lavasani (Samuel), Ryan Nolan (Percy), Lauren Waine (Rowan) and Harry Weston (the Boy) bring an energetic presence to The Bounds. Ryan Nolan in particular, as a native Geordie, is completely at home both with the dialect and passion for the game. His versatility as a performer keeps the play focused, especially when it is in danger of drifting. Lauren Waine’s Rowan as the foil to Ryan Nolan’s Percy, is equally confident, and it is a delight to watch them play off against each other. If Soroosh Lavasani’s Samuel is less certain, it’s an accurate depiction of the place his character inhabits in Tudor society. A little education with a lot of religious indoctrination can be a dangerous thing, and Samuel proves that in spades. Harry Weston’s part may be small, but he carries the future in his lines, and his confident delivery as the Boy sounds the knell for the autonomy of folk like Percy. Jack McNamara’s direction keeps the action on the move, even within such a confined space.

Pringle’s drama is bold in its inception. If it doesn’t quite measure up to its opening promise, it may be that The Bounds needs a space, and a cast, as large as the Whitsuntide match between Allendale and Catton in the mid sixteenth century.


THE BOUNDS at the Royal Court

Reviewed on 17th Jun e2024

by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Von Fox Promotions

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

LIE LOW | ★★★★ | May 2024
BLUETS | ★★★ | May 2024
GUNTER | ★★★★ | April 2024
COWBOIS | ★★★★★ | January 2024
MATES IN CHELSEA | ★★★ | November 2023
CUCKOO | ★★½ | July 2023
BLACK SUPERHERO | ★★★★ | March 2023
FOR BLACK BOYS … | ★★★★★ | April 2022

THE BOUNDS

THE BOUNDS

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The Fishermen

★★★½

Trafalgar Studios

The Fishermen

The Fishermen

Trafalgar Studios

Reviewed – 7th September

★★★½

 

“there are multiple scenes packed too tightly with action, making the plot slightly cumbersome to follow”

 

Jack McNamara’s The Fishermen has found success in multiple venues now: first at Home in Manchester, then at the Arcola in London; a sell-out stint at Edinburgh, and it’s back for another round in London at Trafalgar Studios.

Set in Southern Nigeria in the mid-90s, Obembe (Valentine Olukoga) returns home and is reunited with his younger brother Ben (David Alade) after eight years. Following a slightly tense first encounter, the two get to reminiscing, entertaining each other with impressions of family members and old faces from the community, and talking about old times. In doing so they unravel the incident which permanently scarred both their lives and led to Obembe’s running away.

Based on Chigozie Obioma’s Man Booker shortlisted novel by the same name, adaptor Gbolahan Obisesan has the unenviable task of condensing an entire novel in to a 75-minute play. It’s a lot to ask of a two-hander, however, and there are multiple scenes packed too tightly with action, making the plot slightly cumbersome to follow.

Alade and Olukoga do well to embody the roles of each of their family members as well as their younger selves, and for the most part it’s clear who is speaking and from when (the past or the present). The two find comic relief where they can, giving the audience an occasional reprieve from the play’s almost overwhelming intensity. But the device of looking back to times gone by, jokingly mimicking their mother and so on, doesn’t quite translate when they’re re-enacting serious family arguments or plots to murder for example – it’s not that the re-enactment doesn’t work for the plot, but rather the means by which they justify it. It might have been better if they had just performed it for the audience, rather than for each other.

The design (Amelia Jane Hankin) too is ambitious but overreaching: a curved row of metal poles imitates prison bars, and for the first ten minutes the brothers are divided by it. But thereafter, they’re walking through it, swapping places, standing side by side. It transpires that neither are in prison, rendering the bars just symbolic. Whilst I understand the gesture, the piecemeal manner by which the audience is trying to understand what happened means the bars are a red herring and quite distracting.

Both Alade and Olukoga are superb: Their familial bond is palpable as brotherly love grinds against old wounds. Whilst the novel’s nuanced tale doesn’t quite translate to such a short re-enactment, at least there’s no time to be distracted or bored, and the passion of the performances alone fully justifies The Fishermen’s adaptation.

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


The Fishermen

Trafalgar Studios until 12th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Coming Clean | ★★★★ | January 2019
Black Is The Color Of My Voice | ★★★ | February 2019
Soul Sessions | ★★★★ | February 2019
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

 

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