Tag Archives: Joshua Pharo

Love and Other Acts of Violence

★★★★

Donmar Warehouse

Love and Other Acts of Violence

Donmar Warehouse

Reviewed – 15th October 2021

★★★★

 

“it’s essential to remind ourselves that theatre isn’t just about feel good musicals and revivals of the classics”

 

Cordelia Lynn’s new play, Love and Other Acts of Violence, is an unsettling look into how intimate relationships can be haunted by the past. In Lynn’s hands, it’s a clever premise. It’s multi-layered, complex—and yet, predictable in its unraveling. It looks back into the past and—just as unsettling—suggests a bleak future which, at this time of writing, doesn’t seem all that impossible. It is a timely reminder how quickly educated, civilized communities can be destroyed in a moment, if malign forces converge to set them against one another and tear them apart. Even more heartbreaking are the fates of the people caught in the middle. People just trying to live their own lives, to be true to their own cultural values, and not get drawn into fights that mean nothing to them.

It helps, then, to see the contemporary relationship between a Jewish physicist/Her and a poet of Polish descent/Him in this play as—broadly speaking—a series of echoes from the past that destroyed Her’s family in 1918 in what had just become Poland. We don’t learn the details of this past tragedy until the lengthy epilogue of the play, but Lynn sets about creating the inevitable revelations from the very first encounter between this ill-matched pair. He’s the idealistic firebrand at a party, invading her space as he rants passionately about poorly paid workers at the university where she is a graduate student. He notes with disdain the nice flat that he has snooped around during the party, and makes some unflattering comments about the likely owner. It turns out that it belongs to Her, the woman he is trying so hard to impress. Luckily for Him, and not so luckily for Her, she’s also kind, sensitive and intelligent, willing to forgive. This dynamic sets up the encounters that follow, becoming more intense, and violent, as the pair become lovers, then partners. The audience can only wonder why she doesn’t walk away. It’s painful to watch. And that is the point.

If we expect Lynn to stop there, however, Love and Other Acts of Violence has a couple more surprises for us. The first is a trip to a harrowingly imagined future, as the couple’s relationship deteriorates. At every point, the relationship echoes the slow, but insidious erosion of civil rights in the world around them, and hints of civil war. And then, in a magnificent moment, a coup de théâtre indeed, Basia Bińkowska’s bleak set converts from a bare space in the twenty-first century British Isles, to a meticulously detailed room in twentieth century L’viv (also Lwów, or Lemberg). In the epilogue, we see how events playing out during a struggle between Poles and Ukrainians for a small piece of contested territory sets the stage for the relationship we have just witnessed. Powerful, and tragic, stuff.

The newly refurbished Donmar Warehouse is a good place for a play like this. The austere brickwork and stark lines of the auditorium focus our attention squarely where it should be—on the stage, and the actors. Tom Mothersdale (as Him/Man) has the thankless task of playing the unsympathetic protagonist, and it’s to his credit that he goes for it so unstintingly. It’s easy to sympathize with Abigail Weinstock’s Her, but there’s not much for her to do except to react to His goading in the first part of Love and Other Acts of Violence. Baba (the role she takes on in the epilogue) is in some ways, a more interesting, nuanced role, and Weinstock makes the most of the opportunity. Richard Katz as Tatte is the charming, yet dolefully prescient father in the epilogue, who explains to his daughter why they have not taken the opportunity to escape to America. Director Elayce Ismail’s assured direction holds the play together, and sets the stage for each feature of this production to shine. I’ve mentioned the brilliant set design, but the sound (Richard Hammarton) and lighting (Joshua Pharo) are also noteworthy. And although there is no dramaturgy credit, the programme notes by Professor Michael Berkowitz are an absolutely essential part of understanding how this complex play fits together.

While a play like Love and Other Acts of Violence might not be everyone’s idea of how to spend a Friday night in the theatre, it’s important to remind ourselves that theatre isn’t just about feel good musicals and revivals of the classics. There are times when playwrights have to be the Cassandras of their generation, and fortunately for us, Cordelia Lynn knows how to rise to the challenge. I urge you to see this show.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Helen Murray

 


Love and Other Acts of Violence

Donmar Warehouse until 27th November

 

Previously reviewed this year by Dominica:
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice | ★★★ | Online | February 2021
Adventurous | ★★½ | Online | March 2021
Overflow | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
Stags | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | May 2021
The Sorrows of Satan | ★★★ | Online | May 2021
Doctor Who Time Fracture | ★★★★ | Unit HQ | June 2021
In My Own Footsteps | ★★★★★ | Book Review | June 2021
L’Egisto | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | June 2021
Luck be a Lady | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | June 2021
Wild Card | ★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | June 2021
Starting Here, Starting Now | ★★★★★ | Waterloo East Theatre | July 2021
The Game Of Love And Chance | ★★★★ | Arcola Theatre | July 2021
The Ladybird Heard | ★★★★ | Palace Theatre | July 2021
Rune | ★★★ | Round Chapel | August 2021
Roots | ★★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | October 2021
The Witchfinder’s Sister | ★★★ | Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch | October 2021
Rice | ★★★★ | Orange Tree Theatre | October 2021

 

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The Claim

The Claim

★★★★★

Shoreditch Town Hall

The Claim

The Claim

Shoreditch Town Hall

Reviewed -20th February 2020

★★★★★

 

“a tremendous example of when theatre truly can be a powerful mouthpiece and provoke its viewers to want to genuinely act”

 

Many people seeking asylum in the UK arrive hoping for a new start. They feel Britain will offer them a sense of security they’ve been craving. However, studies have shown that the Home Office’s system of processing asylum seekers is failed, with wrong decisions due to misinformation and language barriers happening regularly, causing dangerous or traumatic effects. The Claim follows one such asylum seeker’s aggravating journey of wanting to be heard and find consummate peace. It’s a compelling tale of injustice, designed to incite change.

Serge (Tonderai Munyevu) wants to tell his story. He wants the trauma of his past to be softened by the assurance of protection and stability in this country. The country he’s hoping to make his permanent home. An office, where co-workers A (Nick Blakeley) and B (Indra Ové) deal with claims of refuge. Claims like Serge’s, A and B’s job demands precision and the truth, however in their process of obtaining it, they ultimately fabricate the answers they want through prejudice and misinterpretation.

It is devastatingly heartbreaking to see the anguish and torment Serge is put in, as he jumps through administrative hoops. Never has the term ‘lost in translation’ been so apparent. Playwright Tim Cowbury allows the audience to feel they are fully standing in Serge’s shoes, experiencing the same infuriation as he, within the same moment. You feel an immense sense of investment in the character Serge, rooting for him throughout and willing his actual truth to be heard and understood. Many hands in heads and sighs of frustration could be seen and heard from the audience members. The play generates this kind of immediate, involuntary response. Cowbury masterfully composes interweaving and intercutting dialogue, with voices overlapping into a cacophony of communication breakdown. As much as the writing deals with deep rooted issues, it is off set with amusing moments and witty lines that make this abstract set play a joy to watch.

The three actors play their distinctive parts excellently. They all have a nimble hold on the complex, fast-paced nature of Cowbury’s dialogue. Munyevu’s vulnerability and desperation as Serge is most stirring. Ové as B is unbearably clinical with her job, yet presents a nuanced subtext that proves that B has had her own issues of discrimination to contend with. Blakeley plays the nervous energy of a liberal white male do-gooder to perfection. A’s ignorance whilst trying to be a saviour is most believable.

Played in the round, with some dialogue breaking the fourth wall, the audience are very much immersed in the action. Sometimes, claustrophobically so, feeling too close for comfort to the action. Another device to make the audience experience the same emotions as the protagonist. A simple block in the centre for a chair and vertical, four-corner strip lighting highlights further the impersonal, inhumane environment of such offices.

This is the most affecting piece of performance I have seen in recent time. The Claim is a tremendous example of when theatre truly can be a powerful mouthpiece and provoke its viewers to want to genuinely act. Something that many productions strive to, but never actually achieve. The Claim is different. With strong writing, powerful performances and inclusive staging, this is a terrifically thought provoking show in every aspect. Who knew sitting in a state of exasperation could be so entertaining?

 

Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by John Hunter

 


The Claim

Shoreditch Town Hall until 7th March

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Shift | ★★★★ | May 2019
Gastronomic | ★★★★★ | September 2019
Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire | ★★★★ | December 2019

 

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