Tag Archives: Malik Nashad Sharpe

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

 

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Hotter Than a Pan
★★★

The Yard Theatre

Hotter Than a Pan

Hotter Than a Pan

The Yard Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd January 2019

★★★

 

“a promising work that tackles some big topics with commitment and beauty”

 

The air in The Yard Theatre is thick with incense. This smell, however, is quickly replaced by the odour of smoke, as performer Malik Nashad Sharpe enters the space with a burning torch. “You are not my friend, you don’t even talk to me,” Sharpe intones over and over, back to the audience, ‘Everything’ printed in white down the spine of the dress.

‘Hotter Than A Pan’ is a poignant and affecting story about identity, the boxes we are supposed to inhabit and the anxiety of falling outside of these. It combines dance, words and light, and beautifully investigates strength and weakness.

The choreography is brilliant: vivid and human and living. The beginning is overly slow, but as soon as the dance begins, the piece becomes a success. It is variant in style, continually surprising its audience, and the lighting design works really well with it, rectangles of blue, alternating white boxes, blaring orange light that illuminates the audience.

Some really interesting devices are used that need to be more deeply worked into the narrative so that they do not read as gimmicky. Tape emblazoned with ‘Fragile’ being pulled across the floor is an example of a moment that teeters on this edge. At this stage in its development, the show is still struggling to exist as a cohesive whole, and needs to find a way to bring together the many exciting elements that it houses.

‘Hotter than a Pan’ ends with a monologue that underlines the issues that have been being explored more conceptually through the choreography that has dominated the work until now. It is poignant, and viscerally delivered vocally. However a direct delivery to the audience at this moment would have created a more impactful engagement. In fact throughout, Sharpe’s face is predominantly obscured by a blue wig. Whilst the wig works well aesthetically, it feels like a problem to me, particularly for a piece that is so centred around emotion and identity.

This is a promising work that tackles some big topics with commitment and beauty, but requires more development for it to be fully evolved into something that feels whole.

 

Reviewed by Amelia Brown

 


Hotter Than a Pan

The Yard Theatre until 26th January as part of Now 19 Festival

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Buggy Baby | ★★★★ | March 2018
Three Sisters by RashDash after Chekhov | ★★★★ | May 2018
A New and Better You | ★★★★ | June 2018
The Act | ★★★½ | July 2018
A Kettle of Fish | ★★★ | September 2018
Moot Moot | ★★ | October 2018
Super Duper Close Up | ★★★★★ | November 2018
24 Italian Songs and Arias | ★★★★★ | January 2019

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