Tag Archives: Matthew Xia



Donmar Warehouse

SKELETON CREW at the Donmar Warehouse


“a subtle and quiet portrayal of people who feel real and vivid”

Not a lot happens in this play but that’s the crux of its genius. It elevates the everyday. It’s about everything and nothing.

Written in 2014 and first performed in New York in 2016, Skeleton Crew follows four workers in a car manufacturing plant in Detroit. A foreman and three floor workers. As their jobs are threatened, the quiet day to day of their lives unravel, with each facing the uncertainty of their future.

Watching the steady and inevitable disintegration of this department sounds bleak. Somehow, it’s not. The humanity and quiet kindness in these characters gives the audience hope. As the story slowly unfurls, it remains compelling and strangely optimistic.

Dominique Morrisseau’s script is tight. Each line oozes with character. Dancing between philosophy and banter, the dialogue snaps and sizzles. And she knows when to hold back. There’s power in what isn’t said. Matthew Xia leans into that silence in his direction. There are moments of stillness, of pause. Watching people get ready for work, alone, tells you so much about them.

Many of these moments are not silent, just without dialogue. Nicola T Chang’s carefully crafted sound design gives each character a soundtrack, quietly signalling whose story will be the focus of each scene. From Aretha to J Dilla, to the sound of the fridge whirring, this attention to detail makes the world, and the characters, feel more vibrant.

All of the performances are strong – especially from newcomer Branden Cook. However all eyes were glued to Pamela Nomvete in a remarkable performance as the jaded mother hen Faye.

Ultz was the show’s designer, and perhaps undelivered a little. The set was naturalistic – a break room – but each scene was intercut with the clanking of shadowy machinery, an illusion assisted by Ciarán Cunningham’s lighting design. There was a moment of pyrotechnics, which was exciting, but felt a little out of place. For a designer with such an impressive track record, this isn’t Ultz’s best work.

Don’t come to this show expecting surprising plot twists, or a fresh political take. But come for the beauty in a subtle and quiet portrayal of people who feel real and vivid.

SKELETON CREW at the Donmar Warehouse

Reviewed on 6th July 2024

by Auriol Reddaway

Photography by Helen Murray



Previously reviewed at this venue:

THE HUMAN BODY | ★★★ | February 2024



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Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen

Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen


Edinburgh Festival Fringe




Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen


“exciting, original and very funny”


Samuel Barnett plays a stand-up comedian in his Edinburgh debut performance of Marcelo Dos Santos’s new play. He’s thirty-six, which he reassures us is fine in a tone of voice which suggests it’s maybe not. He’s incredibly neurotic, hopelessly single, spending his days scrolling through headless torsos on Grindr and working on his stand-up routines. Every so often we’re treated to a new gag, which range from jokes about Wetherspoons to feeling like you’re going to die if there’s blood in your cum to having the urge to crush a kitten to death with your bare hands. I think Barnett proves that any joke can be funny if the delivery is done right. At one point he even deconstructs the delivery of a perfect joke: the rule of three, alliteration, words which suddenly become funny when juxtaposed with something unexpected. I’m a bit of a nerd for writing theory so loved this bit. As the play plays with form itself, in a stand-up routine which becomes theatre (or vice-versa), it’s very interested in the masking of one form with the other, just as the character masks his underlying anxieties with his jokes.

But when he meets a new man known only as the ‘American’, his jokes just aren’t going to cut it. The American has an uncommon medical conditions where laughing could literally kill him. So he can’t laugh at any of his jokes, even though he reassures him he really does find them funny. Barnett’s character – who doesn’t seem to be given a name – ends up jeopardising the relationship, the first proper relationship of his thirty-six years, and the story ends on a brilliant punchline, which we realise it’s been working towards from quite early on. It’s great.

Barnett’s timing, of both the comedy and the desperation, is impeccable. He’s on full speed from the moment the lights go up and it feels like he hardly stops from breath. And then the moments he does, the moments when he drops the mic and lets us really hear him, we cling on to, hoping we might find some truths, hoping we might be trusted enough to let him be vulnerable for a moment. Matthew Xia’s direction astutely sets the pace of Santos’s text, and works brilliantly to ensure Barnett connects with each and every person in the audience as he whizzes around the stage. It very much feels like we’re at a comedy gig in the way Barnett forms his rapport with us. He rolls his eyes and we feel like rolling ours with him. Each expression and tiny gesture is carefully timed and delivered. We’re totally there with him and his frustrations at the American for not getting slapstick, and other British cultural references. The whole performance is totally captivating.

At the heart of the story, of the jokes, is a comedian, a man in his mid-thirties, living in London and feeling incredibly lonely. And when someone sees this for what it is, he struggles to decide whether or not he can let himself open up. We don’t really find out what happens in the end, but the final gag we’re left with suggests there probably is quite a bit of hope for this character. It’s an exciting, original and very funny new play, with a magnificent, five-star performance from Barnett at the helm.


Reviewed 12th August 2022

by Joseph Winer



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