Tag Archives: Joanna Hetherington

Blank

[BLANK]

★★★★

Donmar Warehouse

Blank

[ BLANK ]

Donmar Warehouse

Reviewed – 23rd October 2019

★★★★

 

“cleverly creeps under our skin as a piece of theatre and leaves us with a lot to contemplate”

 

A woman breaks into her parents’ home to steal money for drugs; a prisoner sees every object as a possible way of killing herself; a sex worker waits in the cold for an extra ten pounds…

For forty years, Clean Break has been changing the future of women during and after their time in prison by both providing an outlet to challenge their misrepresentation in popular entertainment and as a formative process for learning, expression and evolution. Alice Birch’s commission to celebrate this gives carte blanche from a selection of 100 scenes – any number, any order – which address the manifold causes, processes and effects of being caught up in the criminal justice system. By the very nature of the crimes women commit, locking them away is less a safety measure for the rest of society than distancing them from their own threats with devastating repercussions for them, those they depend on and who depend on them. Director, Maria Aberg, has carefully chosen and arranged her selection to touch on lives blighted by a structure which does not confront these complex pastoral issues.

With a brilliant choice of cast, the scope for illustrating the breadth of age, race and class of these women works well visually as well as within the script. Rosie Elnile’s versatile set of raised, individual box rooms around a central space forms different levels of impact for the audience, from the feeling of observed, intimate conversations of abusive relationships and foster care to being drawn into the group spirit of prison life. Some scenes work better than others, however, which produces a somewhat uneven flow. After fragments of emotional experiences at home and in prison, of mothers, daughters, prisoners and staff, the action’s centrepiece (and scene number 100) is a dinner party of old friends. Here Birch brings together all the elements of the good-doing, professional society, patting each other on the back and having another glass of wine. The overlapping conversation between the guests is superb, hypocrisy slowly smouldering as their personalities unfold (the detective, the documentary maker, the therapist, the charity volunteers…) until the one outsider, played by Shona Babayemi, in a passionate outburst, can stand the insincerity no longer.

There are strong performances all round, though our natural expectations for an imposed narrative makes it difficult to completely engage with the characters. Thusitha Jayasundera shows us the painful impotence of a mother who is told her daughter has committed suicide in prison and we feel the confused heartbreak of Joanna Horton as the mother who sees no option for her children but to kill them. In a truly sobering moment, Lucy Edkins and Kate O’Flynn’s quietly powerful final scene as mother and daughter sums up the tragic personal loss of the ignored. Despite the dark and distressing subject, the writing, acting and direction balances sadness with humour. ‘Blank’ cleverly creeps under our skin as a piece of theatre and leaves us with a lot to contemplate.

 

Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

Photography by Helen Maybanks

 


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Donmar Warehouse until 30th November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Appropriate | ★★★★ | August 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Signalman

★★★

Bread and Roses Theatre

The Signalman

The Signalman

Bread & Roses Theatre

Reviewed – 13th October 2019

★★★

 

“As a literary exercise about an intriguing moment in history it is well constructed and makes some significant points, but as a theatrical, period thriller, it never quite grips us”

 

Deeply affected by escaping a train derailment unscathed, Charles Dickens wrote ‘The Signalman’ as a Christmas ghost story which also allowed a social comment on the problems of safety and the pressurised working conditions on the railway. Appealing to the Victorians’ fascination with the supernatural as well as focusing on a hot topic of the day, Dickens’ tale is an interesting insight into an era of the juxtaposed worlds of spirituality and technical innovation. Through the anxiety of the signalman and his premonitory visions, he describes the psychological wear and tear of a lonely job requiring little skill but which shoulders the huge responsibility of passenger safety. The narrator spots the signalman at the bottom of a steep railway cut and out of curiosity, decides to befriend him. Although a somewhat underwhelming storyline for today’s audience, the sense of mystery comes from the initial impression the signalman gives to the narrator of his ‘troubled’ mind and which grows as the narrative between them becomes more involved. From the outset, Dickens’ protagonist is clearly haunted by the mental strain of long nights listening out for the warning bell to avert any possible catastrophe.

Faithful to the original text, Martin Malcolm’s stage adaptation reconstructs the dialogue as a monologue by the signalman and introduces Joe, a crossing sweeper, as his silent listener. The production opens with the signalman clearing the aftermath of an accident and recounting it in detail to the sweeper. The account weaves in details of the Staplehurst disaster itself, at which Dickens helped his fellow travellers who lay injured. As the play goes on, we hear how the signalman is increasingly disturbed by the stranger who stands at the mouth of the tunnel, his warnings and the tragedies which follow. Tim Larkfield, as the Signalman, does a good job in creating and sustaining his character from the script but, single-handed, the build-up of tension is a strain. Rather than being drawn into the sensation of foreboding suspense, what results is more of a thoughtful take on the Victorian dramatic monologue. Unfortunately, considering the amount of time she is on stage, Helen Baranova also misses an opportunity for an imaginative cameo role as Joe. Even as a mute waif, her purpose as a vehicle for the storytelling could bring dimension to the whole performance with a thought-through, Dickensian personality – Smike, for example – rather than simply following with facial echoing.

The direction (Sam Raffal) is clean cut and incorporates an illusory soundscape and some dramatic lighting, especially towards the end, but to lure the audience with the torments of the signalman, it needs more of these ideas throughout. As a literary exercise about an intriguing moment in history it is well constructed and makes some significant points, but as a theatrical, period thriller, it never quite grips us.

 

Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

 

Clapham Fringe 2019

The Signalman

Bread & Roses Theatre as part of Clapham Fringe

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Just To Sit At Her Table, Silver Hammer & Mirabilis | ★★★ | April 2019
Starved | ★★★★★ | April 2019
The Mind Reading Experiments | ★★★ | May 2019
The Incursion | ★★½ | July 2019
Coco’s Adventures | ★★★ | September 2019
Room Service | ★★★★★ | September 2019
The Bacchae | ★★★ | September 2019
Trial Of Love | ★★★½ | September 2019
The Gravy Bunch | ★★½ | October 2019
Smashing It! | ★★ | October 2019

 

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