SPIRAL at Jermyn Street Theatre
“There were so many opportunities to explore interesting nuances that were missed”
This play doesn’t know what it wants to be. A study of vulnerability and coercive control? A tense thriller where we are left doubting the intentions of a seemingly kindly English teacher? An exploration of grief, loss and hope? By stretching itself too thin, Spiral achieves none of these and results in a confusing and uncomfortable show. Only the energy of writer Abigail Hood, who also stars in the central role of Leah, and a sensitive performance from Jasper Jacob as the grieving Tom save Spiral from total destruction.
Spiral opens with a meeting between a young woman dressed in school uniform, and an older man in an apparently transactional relationship. We then discover that despite the seedy undertones, Tom has hired Leah as a coping mechanism to deal with the stress wrought by the mysterious disappearance of his daughter several months prior. The reason for the schoolgirl get up? Leah is a doppelgänger for his missing daughter. Tom and Leah strike up an unlikely friendship, which challenges Tom’s relationship with his wife Gill (Rebecca Crankshaw) and tarnishes his reputation in his community which is – quite understandably – suspicious of his intentions.
The staging is simple. Newspaper cuttings paste the floor and five small blocks are the only substantial items on set. Highlighted phrases in the cuttings appear to reference the case of Tom’s missing daughter, which is an interesting choice when the disappearance is treated as an accessory to the main plot, and the circumstances not explored in depth. The stage felt underutilised, the vast majority of scenes played out as if on a proscenium arch and not in a compact black box space.
The direction (Kevin Tomlinson, who also appears as Mark) is uneven. Actors are often static, with limited use of the space or different levels. A moment with stylised and sexualised play between Leah and Mark therefore jars with the rest of production, and I wish there was more done to make other scenes more visually interesting. Where props are used, sometimes they clutter the stage, resulting in clumsy clean ups between scenes. Portrayals of violence are brief and unsubtle which reduces the tension despite Tomlinson depicting truly horrible abuse.
There were so many opportunities to explore interesting nuances that were missed. While Tom finds Leah, Gill finds alcohol and religion. How much comfort can these really give? How problematic are they for her? We never get to find out. How much does she really suspect Tom for involvement in her daughter’s disappearance? Is she to blame for not trusting him? All unexplored.
Another frustration: the sexual politics are outdated. Leah only escorts at the behest of her scrounging pimp and boyfriend, showing little to no agency, and requires ‘saving’ by Tom, to whom she is eternally grateful. Leah is portrayed as uncomplicatedly pure; the abuse she has suffered through her life has not tarnished her ultimately sunny outlook. As the ‘ideal’ victim, I found her hard to believe, and a little uninteresting as a result.
I would love to watch Hood in another production, as she has a warmth and vibrancy that lights up the stage. Jacob and Crankshaw are also fine actors, able to communicate a devastating range of emotions, even when not the focal point of scenes. It is just a shame that Spiral does not have the subtlety or ambiguity to allow its actors to find real emotional depths.
SPIRAL at Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed on 7th August 2023
by Rosie Thomas
Photography by Mark Dawson
Previously reviewed at this venue: