“Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s production is atmospheric, moving and hugely enjoyable”
Screamingly funny and surprisingly moving, Coming Clean is an eighties anthem to love, friendship and the pain of infidelity. The play premiered in 1982, at the end of the more carefree pre-AIDS era when gay men didn’t have to think about that kind of danger. It’s a domestic drama, centred on the life of Tony and Greg, a couple who have what appears to be a stable non-monogamous relationship. Their neighbour and friend William is a party animal and disco queen, cruising and fucking his way round London’s gay scene. He is played with a glorious camp panache by Elliot Hadley, who also manages to convey the warmth and vulnerability beneath William’s outrageous surface. Hadley also makes a hilarious appearance, at the end of the play, as Jurgen, a leather clad German who Tony has brought home for sex. Tony and Greg, played by Lee Knight and Stanton Plummer-Cambridge, are a believable couple who live in Greg’s Kentish Town flat. Their fifth anniversary is coming up and all seems to be well until Tony hires a cleaner. When the cleaner arrives he turns out to be Robert, an attractive out of work actor. And we are on our way to a love triangle.
Lee Knight is superb as Tony, deeply in love with Greg but frustrated by his role as the one who does the housework and his problems with his writing. He is butterfly-like in his subtle mood shifts, becoming a little different depending who he is with, enjoying William’s camp bravado and Greg’s stable strength. Stanton Plummer-Cambridge’s Greg is focussed and taciturn; he can’t tell a joke and is irritated when things don’t go his way. But the two men are OK together, despite some sexual issues, until Robert arrives in their lives. Jonah Rzeskiewicz gives Robert a young, almost puppy like, enthusiasm and a pinch of endearing nervousness. He seems too sweet to be the cause of the pain to come.
The action all takes place in the flat, a perfect reincarnation of an eighties pad, created by designer Amanda Mascarenhas. From the rug on the floor to the Thriller poster on the wall it’s an evocation of a world when a pint of beer cost 90p and Kentish Town was an affordable place to live. The eighties music, and the classical records on the record player keep us firmly in the right time and place. Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s production is atmospheric, moving and hugely enjoyable. It is also nostalgically sad, because from our twenty-first century viewpoint we can see the looming shadow of the coming AIDS epidemic and the terrible suffering it brought to the gay community.
Kevin Elyot’s writing is sharp and witty and, although he uses some standard tropes, a partner returning home early, only to find his lover ‘at it’ with someone else, there is also a depth and understanding of the pain of infidelity that, with credit to Knight’s portrayal, is almost visceral. There is surprisingly little reference to the difficulties of being gay in 1982, Tony and Greg’s relationship being seemingly undisturbed by the outside world. It is only William’s attack that introduces a harsher societal context to the work.
“Reaching inventive new heights without pretension, this production feels fresh, striving to relate to its audience”
Love is a fickle old thing that can make a person crazy. It can drive wedges between friendships and cause chaos all around it. In an exciting new adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, presented by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, such effects of love are all on display. Razor-sharp in delivery, this intelligent retelling is as joyously entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
A group of soldiers are on leave from war, and accept the invite of staying with Leonato, the Governor of Messina, and his family, for a few days. What ensues is a gush of mixed emotions as the heady concoction of civilian life, falling in and out of love, and trickery befalls on the party.
Director Elizabeth Freestone has done a tremendous job in finding some original ways of reimagining Much Ado, giving it fresh meaning. The use of filming from phones is an ingenious take on the original text. It firmly places the story in 2019, giving the play a chance to explore current issues such as fake news, online trolling and abuse through social media, which completely works. It makes the premise seem far more plausible for a 21st century audience, and proves that a 400-year old text still has relevance. The hilarious use of fancy dress (I won’t give away the costume theme) during the integral masked ball, is another moment of modernisation that Freestone has so brilliantly encompassed. Despite perhaps being used in other recent Shakespeare adaptations, the fancy dress concept is still clever and highly jubilant.
There’s an electric energy between Dorothea Myer-Bennett and Geoffrey Lumb as the conflicting lovers Beatrice and Benedick, both actors making the witty put downs towards one another fizz and crackle. Myer-Bennett in particular is on plucky form, doing complete justice to arguably Shakespeare’s best written female role. The whole cast should be applauded for really making the text their own, never shying away from originality or the unconventional, yet always making sure it is rooted in truth.
Freestone reveals that she aims for a 50/50 gender balance in her productions meaning gender-blind casting for some of the roles. Here, the melancholy meddler and villain of the show Don Jon, and the jobs-worth constable Dogberry have been given to female actors (Georgia Frost and Louise Mai Newberry) which fits naturally. As women are holding higher positions within the workplace and many more joining military forces, Freestone’s decision reflects this justly. Both actors revel in their parts, Frost bringing a jealous capriciousness, and Newberry an irresistible sass.
Music, as always with Shakespeare, plays a big part. Not only is it used in this production for transitions or decorative embellishment, but entwined within the story, utilised for comic effect and the like. Bethan Mary-James as likeable Margaret, the singer and waiting lady to Hero, is congenitally attached to a ukulele, who strums away to the annoyance or delight of the other characters.
Much Ado is heralded a comedy, but this recent offering from the Tobacco Factory really highlights the surprisingly darker, more tragic elements to the tale. Creating a much needed juxtaposition from the laughs and tomfoolery, the characters go on a believable roller coaster ride of emotions. Reaching inventive new heights without pretension, this production feels fresh, striving to relate to its audience.