Reviewed – 25th July 2018
“the work could do with more contrast and development to illustrate the various parts of the original text and to expound the ideas it inspires”
From their new home in Tottenham Hale, Theatre N16’s collaboration with Styx art space provides a challenging yet creative location for its programmes. Behind a trendy outside bar area, the shows are staged in the bleak warehouse of an old brewery, allowing plenty of scope for invention. Proforca’s director, David Brady, cleverly uses this stark setting to bring out the darkness and pathos in Oscar Wilde’s ballad, ‘Reading Gaol’, written in reaction to his time in prison. Free but disgraced, his last work is not only in protest at the Victorian penal system but also an exploration of the paradoxes of morality as he describes the execution of one and the collective feelings of the other inmates. In this production, an updated version, new writing has been incorporated to expand on the ideas of freedom, oppression and conflict.
Beams of light, smoke and sounds effects combine to create an atmosphere of desolation. A scarlet jacket on a red chair is the only focus of colour. Five actors recite the ballad, pacing like prisoners to its plodding meter. At intervals, each in turn offers a character to illustrate the vulnerability of human nature and its consequences. Breaking up the poem with fresh material is effective considering that the rich, detailed language is hard to assimilate in one sitting, some lines being thrown away due to a lack of clarity and expression. However, at almost two hours running time the work could do with more contrast and development to illustrate the various parts of the original text and to expound the ideas it inspires.
The three central stories make the most impact. ‘Human’ uses imaginative, dramatic lighting effects with handheld lamps and a strong performance by Nic James to take us to the jungles of Africa. Interestingly offbeat in its rhythm, ‘Guardian’ sees Malcolm Jeffries anxiously fighting his isolation and in a soulful tale, ‘Innocent’ tells of a country lad, touchingly played by Miles Parker, in prison for his naivety. But it is the first and last parts which require stronger personality to give the play its overall shape. James Vincent underplays the disturbing quality of the cold-blooded ‘Monster’ and the writing of ‘Hero’ (Nick Cope) fails to convincingly finalise the play with its meandering thoughts.
Even though it could do with a spot of further remodelling, it has the novelty of mixing classical and contemporary narrative and a great sense of live performance from the moment we enter the building. The technical aspects are innovative and slick and the actors work well together and individually, and all in a venue which will be a discovery for most.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography courtesy Proforça Theatre Company
Theatre N16 until 3rd August
Also by Proforça Theatre Company
King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 17th April 2018
“A tighter play might have lent a much-needed weight to the darker central theme of depression”
The writer’s note for Jenna Kamal’s Fishbowl reminds us of a haunting fact: the biggest killer of men under forty five in Britain is suicide. In a world where masculinity is explicitly linked to strength, and emotion explicitly linked to weakness, she argues we are creating a generation of men who are unable to handle complex emotions and routinely suffer the consequences. With Fishbowl, she stages a careful study of this alarming notion.
George and Hatty are neighbours and sometime lovers. One morning at 4 a.m., George calls Hatty complaining of a leak in his ceiling. She thinks that it’s just an excuse for sex, but as the play unfolds, it is clear something much darker is on George’s mind.
In the opening moments of the show the actors’ delivery does feel somewhat stilted, but as they settle into the performance, the characters come alive. Nick Cope skilfully handles George’s transition from comedy to tragedy; slowly his stubborn attitude slips away, revealing deeper troubles which he can barely admit to himself. Felicity Green’s Hatty starts in a slightly forced register, but once the play is up and running, she likewise settles in to its emotional rhythms.
The stage design is spacious and efficient – sofa, table, chair – and gives the actors plenty of room to stretch their legs but can sometimes add an unusual distance between the pair, even though they’re supposed to be (semi-) romantically involved. This distance also appears to be implicit in the writing, though it is not always clear why.
In general, Kamal’s dialogue is warm and witty. In fact, it is often hilarious; on several occasions, George and Hatty’s combative relationship gets genuine big laughs from the audience. George’s quixotic attempts to deal with his leak and his inability to avoid argument demonstrate Kamal’s capability with comedy. However, this does sometimes overshadow the play’s more serious overall message, and one can’t help the feeling that some of the comedic sequences could have been trimmed. A tighter play might have lent a much-needed weight to the darker central theme of depression. There is also a sense that George and Hatty are at arm’s length with each other, despite their romantic relationship. This is partially because of George’s inability to really deal with emotion, but nonetheless feels at odds with the plot. A brief kiss between them towards the end suddenly reminds us just how unromantic they have been, despite the undeniable affection between them.
However, in spite of a few slightly-too-lengthy sequences, Kamal’s story is considered and her characters sympathetic. The isolation that many young people suffer today, especially in big cities, is made all too painfully clear. Conversation may well be the best form of confrontation, and with Fishbowl, Kamal makes a powerful point.
Reviewed by Harry True
Photography by Erin Blackmore
King’s Head Theatre until 21st April