“There are some very strong, exciting ideas here, but they’ve been mostly lost along the way”
Set in a near dystopian future in the now decaying but still fabulous Savoy Hotel, the premise of 100 Paintings, as directed by Zachary Hart, seems a perfect marriage of punk and glamour. With the strange addition of an artist trying to produce 100 paintings for the hotel so that he and his mother, otherwise destitute, can stay, there’s an abundance of potential for this to be perfectly bizarre, funny and full of meaningful pathos.
Unfortunately, writer Jack Stacey has missed the mark by a rather long way. Instead, we’ve got a very broad dramedy about an overbearing mother (Denise Stephenson) and an over-mothered son (Conrad Williamson), with occasional unexplained mentions of a destroyed city beyond the bedroom walls. When we’re introduced to Bea (Jane Christie) for example, she’s wearing a respirator mask, and her face is covered in soot. Ooh intriguing. But then we’re fed a subplot that has absolutely nothing to do with the outside, about her recently deceased dad having an eighteen-year affair. Honestly, what is this show about?
Everyone plays their parts well enough; it’s all very yelly and enunciated, but that seems appropriate for the sort of panto-like comedy Stacey has gone for: “Oh it’s on the tip of my tongue”, says mother. “Well stick out your tongue then!” her son quips.
Designer Zsofia Sarosi has done well to create a messy bohemia: stylish wallpaper suitable for a five-star hotel, now peeling and ripped, is covered with irreverent streaks of paint; a dainty drinks trolly is stacked with brushes and empty bottles, and a little coffee table is piled high with teacups and paint pots.
There are some very strong, exciting ideas here, but they’ve been mostly lost along the way. Perhaps if it were simply a mother-son dramedy, without the added mystery of a dystopian future, it wouldn’t feel so disappointing in its execution, and it would certainly be a lot less confusing. Alas.
“an incredibly unlikely but somehow believable mess of misunderstanding, miscommunication and mishap”
We begin with Annie (Jane Christie) and Rob (Rowland Stirling) at their flat door, drunkenly fumbling for keys and clothes. Annie’s quickly down to her underwear, pouring drinks and readying to finish off what has clearly already been a big night out. But as she draws the sheets back, she finds a strange naked man in her bed.
This, it transpires is Jacob (George Rennie), an old school friend of Rob’s, or rather, they used to be “friendly with a chance of meatballs.”
Thus ensues a chaotic game of ‘pass the hysteria’, each character desperately trying to find their footing in what is an incredibly unlikely but somehow believable mess of misunderstanding, miscommunication and mishap.
In a lot of ways this is a typical bedroom farce, moving through unlikely plotlines, various sexual pairings, and deteriorating and rebuilding relationships. But whilst the script (Oliver Page) is relentlessly farcical, it’s clear the narrative is rooted in something more sincere.
Normally with a bedroom farce, the bulk of the play consists of attempts to hide the various pairings from one another, but in this case, we begin with the discovery. You might think there couldn’t possibly be enough meat on this to last an entire play, but somehow the narrative keeps unfolding, causing the audience to actually gasp in unison on more than one occasion. The sexual chemistry on stage is palpable, and it’s very difficult to decide who the audience is vying for.
Jane Christie strikes a perfect balance between wanting to be understanding of a very weird situation, and wanting to punch everyone twice. Sometimes she manages to communicate both in one facial expression.
Rowland Stirling’s rollercoaster of a performance takes us from quiet, close affection to shrill fits of panic, and George Rennie is perfectly understated, that is until the understandably contagious hysteria gets to him too.
With the title in mind, it’s hardly a surprise that the staging consists of a big pile of bedding and not much else (Ioana Curelea). The plot requires bottles of alcohol and a knife (don’t worry, it doesn’t get nasty), but there’s no need for the distraction of a full kitchen. Instead everything is neatly stored in a pillow case. Scene in a toilet? Don’t fret, there’s a bucket in the aisle. Rather than being a fringe show necessity, this lack of frills seems more of a choice. The script and acting are funny and bold enough not to require high production.
Director Ed Theakston brings us confessional grit combined with well-timed slapstick- a surprisingly brilliant pairing. Mating in Captivity is both exceedingly entertaining and unabashedly earnest.