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Spiderfly

★★★★★

Theatre503

Spiderfly

Spiderfly

Theatre503

Reviewed – 11th November 2019

★★★★★

 

“a fantastically unpredictable play – deeply unsettling its audience one moment and then having them roar with cathartic laughter the next”

 

John Webber’s debut play immediately makes a strong, lasting impression, bursting onto the Theatre503 stage with all the boxes for a winning production ticked and making me wonder why we haven’t come across Webber sooner. It packs high drama, nail-biting tension and po-faced hilarity into one 80 minute two-hander, paired beautifully with a production design that strikes the optimum balance between simplicity and ingenuity – Lizzy Leech (set/costume), Dominic Brennan (sound) and Peter Small (lighting) are to be applauded for their masterful touch here.

Spiderfly follows the story of Esther (Lia Burge), who is still traumatised by her sister Rachel’s death and wants answers from Keith (Matt Whitchurch), the man convicted of and who pleaded not guilty to Rachel’s murder. A blossoming romance with Chris (also Whitchurch) is tested as Esther allows herself to be drawn into Keith’s unsettling world; her dogged determination for truth manifesting in subsequent visits where the two form a dangerous bond. More and more we watch in fascinated horror as Keith’s effect on Esther’s own life outside the visits becomes more profound, and we wonder whether she will fall completely under his spell before finding the closure she so desperately seeks.

It’s a fantastically unpredictable play – deeply unsettling its audience one moment and then having them roar with cathartic laughter the next. A structure where the finer details and context of the plot are drip-fed in a way that gives just enough information to know what’s going on but still maintaining an air of mysterious suspense is part of why Spiderfly remains entirely gripping throughout – it really feels as though you are rewarded for sticking with it.

As for Burge and Whitchurch, they pay absolute dividends to the text. The performances are so well observed you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d written it themselves – director Kirsty Patrick Ward has clearly done a fantastic job in eking out the rich morsels of detail for the characters. Esther’s deep-set trauma is painstakingly etched into everything the character does – never once does Burge lose this, even during the lighter scenes with Chris where despite her best efforts, Esther seems as though something is holding her back. It’s a highly sophisticated performance and never one-note, as the relatability of some of Esther’s lines (“I need to look happy. Nicotine-free, obviously”) thankfully maintain her sense of humour.

Whitchurch’s contrast between Keith and Chris is extremely impressive and in the earlier stages of the play I had to look closely just to check whether it really was the same actor playing both. The lovably awkward, put-his-foot-in-it-again Chris is a favourite of the audience and provides effective comic relief, however Keith is the character that stays with you. Whitchurch’s performance is absolutely chilling – Keith is often friendly and almost charming, but a deep undercurrent of violence is forever present. When his nastier side rears its head the character becomes genuinely terrifying, absolutely dripping with quiet menace. The last scene between Keith and Esther is truly a masterclass in acting and even by itself well worth watching Spiderfly for.

I have utmost confidence that this will not be the last we see of Webber – Spiderfly is absolutely spectacular and as a debut play blows all expectations out of the water.

 

Reviewed by Sebastian Porter

Photography by Josh McClure

 


Spiderfly

Theatre503 until 30th November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Caterpillar | ★★★★ | September 2018
The Art of Gaman | ★★★★ | October 2018
Hypocrisy | ★★★½ | November 2018
Cinderella and the Beanstalk | ★★★★ | December 2018
Cuzco | ★★★ | January 2019
Wolfie | ★★★★★ | March 2019
The Amber Trap | ★★★ | April 2019
J’Ouvert | ★★★★ | June 2019
A Partnership | ★★★ | October 2019
Out Of Sorts | ★★★★ | October 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

We're Staying Right Here

We’re Staying Right Here
★★★★

Park Theatre

Were Staying Right Here

We’re Staying Right Here

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 1st March 2019

★★★★

 

“Devas’ script is brilliant, his jet-black comedy works perfectly to confront such a difficult issue”

 

We’re Staying Right Here, written by Henry Devas and directed by Jez Pike, tells the story of Matt (Danny Kirrane) as he transforms from a red-cape wearing stand up comic to an unmotivated loser, hiding in his dingy flat with Tristabel (Tom Canton) and Benzies (Daniel Portman). The show perfectly grapples with the difficult topics of depression and suicide, using humour to highlight the deterioration of Matt’s mind. There is no escaping the war for Matt or for us it seems, as we all sat intensely grouped together in the small Park Theatre, the proximity of the room not allowing us to ignore Matt’s struggles for survival. But don’t worry, this isn’t your typical tale of doom and gloom for there is always a well-timed mum joke waiting to stop us from getting too close to Matt’s truth.

Matt is often buried amongst the trash, his half dressed existence pushed into the corner of Elizabeth Wright’s cleverly conceived room design. We watch Tristabel and Benzies prance around the small flat, repetitively cleaning, singing, arguing and relentlessly speaking about ‘going up.’ But what is up? As the play continues the audience is left in the dark (literally), helplessly trying to capture every piece of information that’s dropped like a weighted bomb into conversation. A perfect example of Dominic Brennan’s clever choice of music is when Benzies is crashing around the flat, packing bags and singing along to ‘Funky Town.’ Benzies joyfully sings (well, shouts) the lyrics ‘Talk about, Talk about,’ to which Matt violently refuses. In this moment, Pike artfully captures the crux of the issue, that there isn’t room in today’s society to talk about mental health, especially for men.

Devas’ script is brilliant, his jet-black comedy works perfectly to confront such a difficult issue. But be warned, there are some uncomfortably awkward moments. The well-timed jokes, which are incredibly funny and had the whole audience laughing out loud, interrupt such pivotal moments in the play. At times it felt like we were just about to gain territory, but just as we thought everything was moving in the right direction, it’s instantly snatched away. Devas artfully intertwines typical war language into the script, using our knowledge of past wars and of men’s struggles to shine, with the help of George Bach’s impressive lighting, a well needed spotlight onto the issue of mental health.

Wright’s stage design was beautifully done. Although basic in its conception, the simple design reflected Matt’s situation perfectly. The scattered rubbish and boarded up windows highlighted Matt’s inner turmoil and seemed typical of someone who is trying to shut the world out. The whole performance felt incredibly personal, as though we were sat inside the flat with the characters. The slightly claustrophobic environment felt symbolic of Matt’s struggles, with the audience representing Matt’s crowded and buzzing thoughts. The acting overall was superb. The actors bounced off of each other so well through their constant banter and button pushing.

We’re Staying Right Here is an impressive play that brilliantly tackles a very current issue.

 

Reviewed by Maddie Stephenson

Photography by David Gill

 


We’re Staying Right Here

Park Theatre until 23rd March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
And Before I Forget I Love You, I Love You | ★★★★ | October 2018
Dangerous Giant Animals | ★★★ | October 2018
Honour | ★★★ | October 2018
A Pupil | ★★★★ | November 2018
Dialektikon | ★★★½ | December 2018
Peter Pan | ★★★★ | December 2018
Rosenbaum’s Rescue | ★★★★★ | January 2019
The Dame | ★★★★ | January 2019
Gently Down The Stream | ★★★★★ | February 2019
My Dad’s Gap Year | ★★½ | February 2019

 

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