Tag Archives: Jonathan Evans

Two Character Play

Two Character Play

★★★★

Hampstead Theatre

Two Character Play

Two Character Play

Hampstead Theatre

Reviewed – 27th July 2021

★★★★

 

“Occasionally melancholic, always mesmerising, totally memorable. A masterpiece of theatre”

 

“To play with fear is to play with fire. No, worse, much worse, than playing with fire. Fire has limits.”

Tennessee Williams knew the importance of opening lines, and in “The Two Character Play” he captures the essence of what is to come. It is simultaneously reassuring and unsettling. It’s a theme that runs through much of his earlier writing, but in this later work it is much less opaque; we know the flame won’t be held back by the yellowing parchment through which we see it flicker.

In a way Williams was playing with fire. Rather than relying on his critical and popular acclaim he wanted to experiment and expand his writing style. It met with a mixed reception at its world premiere at the Hampstead Theatre, disconcerting critics and audiences. But over half a century later it definitely bites with a sharper resonance than ever before. The timing is perfect. A two-hander, we are introduced to Felice and then his sister Clare. They are both “artists of the theatre. Long prepared for working under unexpected conditions”. They have been abandoned by the rest of the company but are nevertheless determined that the show must go on despite the “eccentricities of the time”. Suffocated by their isolation and afraid to go out, the characters’ only choices are to face each other or to face their demons.

The structure is a play within a play, and Sam Yates’ production has perfectly captured this concept. As Felice and Clare prepare for their performance the houselights remain lit, the lighting rig is at floor level and the space is littered with the props and unassembled pieces of scenery. We don’t quite know when the pre-show ends and the show begins. Just as we are never sure of the shifts between the actors and their characters; whether we are in reality or in the play. Or in the play within the play. The blurred lines are always intentional, reflecting the brother and sister losing their own grip on reality.

Zubin Varla, as Felice, and Kate O’Flynn, as Clare, are outstanding and unforgettable. The chemistry burns and crackles with an enforced intimacy and horrific backstory that keeps them forever entwined. The fire of their performance is fanned by the many refreshing waves of comedy that they bring to the roles. It’s a skill that is rarely seen in theatre and Varla and O’Flynn wield it mercilessly through their wonderful shifts in mood, without diminishing the desperation that motivates their characters.

The second act dips into a darker domain. Lee Curran’s shadowy lighting and Dan Balfour’s surround sound design heighten the mood. A false ending trips us up and unfortunately dispels the magic momentarily as we slip into a flash of Gothic Horror. But the poignancy returns as the siblings (are they the actors or are they the characters they are portraying?) start to re-enact the tragedy that befell their parents.

They are unable to see it through. It is as unresolved as the play itself, and as the couple pull the plug on proceedings they are again alone on the bare stage. Their (imagined?) audience has also abandoned them, while they are imprisoned in the theatre. Too tired to be frightened now, they realise that fear is limited. “Clare, your mind’s going out” whispers Felice. Tennessee Williams was haunted and inspired by his sister Rose who was plagued by mental illness. “You must never make fun of insanity” Rose once reproved her brother “It’s worth than death”. In “The Two Character Play” Felice is left a note by the company that abandoned them: ‘Your sister and you are… insane!’. Perhaps they are, perhaps they aren’t. Varla and O’Flynn portray the characters with a perfect mix of exaggeration and sensitivity of which Williams would be proud. There is no answer really, just as the play has no real conclusion. We can part with reality at times, but we can never part with each other.

Occasionally melancholic, always mesmerising, totally memorable. A masterpiece of theatre.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner

 


Two Character Play

Hampstead Theatre until 28th August

 

Reviewed by Jonathan this year:
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
Amélie The Musical | ★★★★ | Criterion Theatre | June 2021
Bad Days And Odd Nights | ★★★★★ | Greenwich Theatre | June 2021
Express G&S | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | June 2021
Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | June 2021
Forgetful Heart | ★★★★ | Online | June 2021
Staircase | ★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | June 2021
The Hooley | ★★★★★ | Chiswick House & Gardens | June 2021
Be More Chill | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | July 2021
Heathers | ★★★ | Theatre Royal Haymarket | July 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Heathers

Heathers

★★★

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Heathers

Heathers

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Reviewed – 12th July 2021

★★★

 

“a shouty affair that drowns out much of the tragedy, truth and trauma running through the heart of the piece”

 

I approach “Heathers the Musical” somewhat as an outsider. In a seemingly packed, though socially distanced auditorium, I am detached from the majority of the audience. Although I am hoping to be drawn in, and accepted. Based on the eighties’ movie, which originally flopped only to become a cult; the musical rapidly became a cult in its own right while skipping the pre-requisite critical rejection that qualifies its status. What marks this production out from the start is the enthusiasm with which it is presented and received. Everything about it is heightened and it often feels like you are in a cartoon.

Set very specifically in 1989, it adopts the high school setting so popular at the time, but twists the genre into something much darker. It reaches further than the typical subject matter of peer pressure and rebellion and attempts to grapple with teenage suicide and the fatal attraction of belonging to a clique. The clique in question is a trio of girls, all called Heather, who hold sway with a swagger that pushes credibility to the limit. For reasons governed by plot clichés, the protagonist – Veronica – is desperate to run with this pack. To say that she eventually outruns them is no spoiler; we can all see it coming as visibly as the love interest side-line.

What rescues the storyline are the quirks, the shocks and body-count that we don’t anticipate. And the oddball minor characters that outshine the leads in most cases. Andy Fickman’s production is a shouty affair that drowns out much of the tragedy, truth and trauma running through the heart of the piece. The more successful moments are when the volume gets turned down and the irony and sporadic subversiveness is allowed to be heard.

Christina Bennington is in fine voice as Veronica, torn between following her fantasy (in the shape of the three Heathers) or her conscience, represented by the Baudelaire reading, enigmatic Jason ‘JD’ Dean; gleefully played with a tongue-in-cheek assuredness by Jordan Luke Gage. His rapid metamorphosis from sympathetic to psychopathic is fun to watch. Less so are the eponymous Heathers; Jodie Steele, Bobbie Little and Frances Mayli McCann who screech far too much for their own good. At least Steele has the advantage of her ‘Heather’ being killed off fairly early on, allowing her to come back and haunt the perpetrators – a sardonic ghost that sheds more light and shade on proceedings than those still alive and clinging onto a script that is pulling them under.

It is buoyed up by the music that, despite its subject matter, powers the piece with energy and optimism. Bizarrely this sense of optimism and misplaced nostalgia is what characterises “Heathers” which, in effect, is a musical about high school killers. It makes light of the issues but doesn’t succeed in highlighting them by the humour. But what do I know? As I said at the start – I am the outsider; detached from the rest of the audience. There’s no denying this is a solid production, with a dream cast of West End talent. And there’s no denying its guaranteed success. It has bludgeoned its way into its cult status – but at the cost of sensitivity.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith 

 


Heathers

Theatre Royal Haymarket until 11th September

 

Previously reviewed by Jonathan this year:
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Amélie The Musical | ★★★★ | Criterion Theatre | June 2021
Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | June 2021
Forgetful Heart | ★★★★ | Online | June 2021
Express G&S | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | June 2021
The Hooley | ★★★★★ | Chiswick House & Gardens | June 2021
Staircase | ★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | June 2021
Bad Days And Odd Nights | ★★★★★ | Greenwich Theatre | June 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews