Tag Archives: Richard Katz

Love and Other Acts of Violence

★★★★

Donmar Warehouse

Love and Other Acts of Violence

Donmar Warehouse

Reviewed – 15th October 2021

★★★★

 

“it’s essential to remind ourselves that theatre isn’t just about feel good musicals and revivals of the classics”

 

Cordelia Lynn’s new play, Love and Other Acts of Violence, is an unsettling look into how intimate relationships can be haunted by the past. In Lynn’s hands, it’s a clever premise. It’s multi-layered, complex—and yet, predictable in its unraveling. It looks back into the past and—just as unsettling—suggests a bleak future which, at this time of writing, doesn’t seem all that impossible. It is a timely reminder how quickly educated, civilized communities can be destroyed in a moment, if malign forces converge to set them against one another and tear them apart. Even more heartbreaking are the fates of the people caught in the middle. People just trying to live their own lives, to be true to their own cultural values, and not get drawn into fights that mean nothing to them.

It helps, then, to see the contemporary relationship between a Jewish physicist/Her and a poet of Polish descent/Him in this play as—broadly speaking—a series of echoes from the past that destroyed Her’s family in 1918 in what had just become Poland. We don’t learn the details of this past tragedy until the lengthy epilogue of the play, but Lynn sets about creating the inevitable revelations from the very first encounter between this ill-matched pair. He’s the idealistic firebrand at a party, invading her space as he rants passionately about poorly paid workers at the university where she is a graduate student. He notes with disdain the nice flat that he has snooped around during the party, and makes some unflattering comments about the likely owner. It turns out that it belongs to Her, the woman he is trying so hard to impress. Luckily for Him, and not so luckily for Her, she’s also kind, sensitive and intelligent, willing to forgive. This dynamic sets up the encounters that follow, becoming more intense, and violent, as the pair become lovers, then partners. The audience can only wonder why she doesn’t walk away. It’s painful to watch. And that is the point.

If we expect Lynn to stop there, however, Love and Other Acts of Violence has a couple more surprises for us. The first is a trip to a harrowingly imagined future, as the couple’s relationship deteriorates. At every point, the relationship echoes the slow, but insidious erosion of civil rights in the world around them, and hints of civil war. And then, in a magnificent moment, a coup de théâtre indeed, Basia Bińkowska’s bleak set converts from a bare space in the twenty-first century British Isles, to a meticulously detailed room in twentieth century L’viv (also Lwów, or Lemberg). In the epilogue, we see how events playing out during a struggle between Poles and Ukrainians for a small piece of contested territory sets the stage for the relationship we have just witnessed. Powerful, and tragic, stuff.

The newly refurbished Donmar Warehouse is a good place for a play like this. The austere brickwork and stark lines of the auditorium focus our attention squarely where it should be—on the stage, and the actors. Tom Mothersdale (as Him/Man) has the thankless task of playing the unsympathetic protagonist, and it’s to his credit that he goes for it so unstintingly. It’s easy to sympathize with Abigail Weinstock’s Her, but there’s not much for her to do except to react to His goading in the first part of Love and Other Acts of Violence. Baba (the role she takes on in the epilogue) is in some ways, a more interesting, nuanced role, and Weinstock makes the most of the opportunity. Richard Katz as Tatte is the charming, yet dolefully prescient father in the epilogue, who explains to his daughter why they have not taken the opportunity to escape to America. Director Elayce Ismail’s assured direction holds the play together, and sets the stage for each feature of this production to shine. I’ve mentioned the brilliant set design, but the sound (Richard Hammarton) and lighting (Joshua Pharo) are also noteworthy. And although there is no dramaturgy credit, the programme notes by Professor Michael Berkowitz are an absolutely essential part of understanding how this complex play fits together.

While a play like Love and Other Acts of Violence might not be everyone’s idea of how to spend a Friday night in the theatre, it’s important to remind ourselves that theatre isn’t just about feel good musicals and revivals of the classics. There are times when playwrights have to be the Cassandras of their generation, and fortunately for us, Cordelia Lynn knows how to rise to the challenge. I urge you to see this show.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Helen Murray

 


Love and Other Acts of Violence

Donmar Warehouse until 27th November

 

Previously reviewed this year by Dominica:
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice | ★★★ | Online | February 2021
Adventurous | ★★½ | Online | March 2021
Overflow | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
Stags | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | May 2021
The Sorrows of Satan | ★★★ | Online | May 2021
Doctor Who Time Fracture | ★★★★ | Unit HQ | June 2021
In My Own Footsteps | ★★★★★ | Book Review | June 2021
L’Egisto | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | June 2021
Luck be a Lady | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | June 2021
Wild Card | ★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | June 2021
Starting Here, Starting Now | ★★★★★ | Waterloo East Theatre | July 2021
The Game Of Love And Chance | ★★★★ | Arcola Theatre | July 2021
The Ladybird Heard | ★★★★ | Palace Theatre | July 2021
Rune | ★★★ | Round Chapel | August 2021
Roots | ★★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | October 2021
The Witchfinder’s Sister | ★★★ | Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch | October 2021
Rice | ★★★★ | Orange Tree Theatre | October 2021

 

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The Divide – 4 Stars

Divide

The Divide

The Old Vic

Reviewed – 9th February 2018

★★★★

“Ayckbourn side-steps the familiarity of the bitter-sweet, domestic comedy and offers a futuristic, dystopian fantasy”

 

A century from now. Sarum, south of the Divide. Post-plague. In the aftermath of a fatal disease which has wiped out most of the male population and consequently blamed on women, the two sexes live geographically separated; men dress in pure white and women in sinful black; homosexual relationships are the norm and heterosexuality is prohibited. Alan Ayckbourn side-steps the familiarity of the bitter-sweet, domestic comedy and offers a futuristic, dystopian fantasy. Its reception by those expecting a new experimental play has to some extent ignored its history. It was conceived as a piece of prose which could also be performed as a narrative for voice, first presented in Scarborough (2015) as an innovative five-part, day-long reading, whereas this lavish and detailed production is an adaptation by Baylis Director at The Old Vic, Annabel Bolton.

The Divide is turned from prose to drama using an array of techniques. Laura Hopkins’ versatile, gauze-layered set uses platforms and sliding panels which give a sense of expanded space and is embellished with intricate projections, including hand-written manuscript, and imaginative and meticulous lighting (David Plater and Ash J Woodward). Immaculate Amish-inspired costumes are beautifully devised, adjusting from the initial monochrome as the story progresses and original music by Christopher Nightingale is performed onstage by musicians and choir, all building up a sense of grandeur and expectation. Yet the author’s intended lightness of the tone is signalled with humour from the start. Taken from diaries, letters and meeting minutes, the script is, by nature, wordy. However, in pursuit of theatricality, subtle touches such as the artful, upside-down shadows are easily overlooked and there are some awkward changes of timbre, for example, the candlelit community choir overlap uncomfortably with the down to earth style of the dialogue.

The fluidity and variety in the staging is much needed to hold the audience’s attention for this trim four-hour version and the inevitable wordiness of a production shaped from prose is remarkably performed, even if the characters are often defined by narrative rather than dialogue. Erin Doherty is outstanding as quirky Soween who, through her diary written from the age of nine, recounts the development of her own feelings and relationships and her part in the downfall of the Divide. Jake Davies’ Elihu, her brother, is excellent, portraying innocent perplexity at the workings of the world, and there are fine performances by Weruche Opia as Giella, who sparks the forbidden feelings, Thusitha Jayasundera as Mapa, patriarch of the family and Richard Katz who plays Elihu’s irredeemable tutor.

A dystopian society built on homosexual relationships is perhaps an unintentionally reactionary view, and the influence of Margaret Atwood is hard to deny. But in the end, for all its new ideas, futuristic genre and topical themes, The Divide has Ayckbourn’s hallmark charm and commentary on the misunderstandings and miscommunications between the genders, in a grandiose but watchable production.

 

Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington 

Photography by Manuel Harlan

 


The Divide

Old Vic

 

 

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