Tag Archives: Robert Day

Big Big Sky

Big Big Sky

★★★★

Hampstead Theatre

Big Big Sky

Big Big Sky

Hampstead Theatre

Reviewed – 7th August 2021

★★★★

 

“draws us into the big big hearts of these characters in a beautifully low-key way”

 

There is a moment in Tom Wells’ “Big Big Sky” where Angie, the café owner, talks of once sighting an albatross gliding across the Yorkshire shoreline. Nobody believed her. “You should have taken a photograph” she is told; which she rebuffs by explaining she would rather have just experienced the moment. The sentiment personifies the play that, in our Instagram age, rolls into our hearts like a breath of fresh air.

This burst of fresh air sweeps in from the North Sea onto the remote hamlet of Kilnsea on the Yorkshire coast. It is always closing time here. The café is closing in each scene, perhaps for good this time. The summer season is over, and as the long winter months beckon, even the way of life is tottering on the brink of extinction. But the café is a haven of hope, of tea and sympathy. Run by Angie (Jennifer Daley), helped by the younger Lauren (Jessica Jolleys), the clientele has flown south – along with the local bird population. Lauren’s father Dennis (Matt Sutton) has a habit of turning up for his freebie supper just as the ‘café open’ sign is dragged inside each evening. It is a cosy ritual, the cloak of which sometimes slips from the shoulder to reveal the bruises born of sadness and grief.

In walks Ed, an enthusiastic conservationist and ecologist, driven to this backwater for a job interview. Today he would be labelled as being ‘on the spectrum’, but in this timeless setting he is merely awkward; initially shy. A vegan geek, Sam Newton effortlessly makes his character loveable, pitching the mannerisms with precision and choreographing perfectly timed moments of understated humour. A captivating performance. It is tempting to say he stands out, but he is matched by the other three, all of whom bring a powerful and penetrating realism to the roles. Dennis bubbles with the Luddite gruffness of a man who has lived in one place for too long, yet Matt Sutton refocuses this myopic vision and we can clearly see a grieving heart that beats beneath. Jessica Jolley’s Lauren is a gorgeous mix of sense and sensibility, who mocks and respects in equal measure – particularly Ed, for whom she falls. Holding the fort is Jennifer Daley, an outstanding portrayal as the maternal yet heart-achingly vulnerable Angie.

Wells’ writing takes centre stage along with the actors. Nothing much happens but it is brimming with backstories and the subtle and melancholic prose draws out the sadness and grief in just the right measure that it sits comfortably alongside the humour. Tessa Walker’s direction reflects this, unafraid to string out the silences between the clamour of emotion, forming the rhythm of the breakers and backwash on the shingle outside the café. A refreshing and bracing combination, capped by Bob Bailey’s authentic coastal tea-room design.

Each character is mourning the loss of a loved one – a mother, a wife, or a daughter. But the will to keep moving perseveres. The café is on the brink of extinction, but it perseveres. Like the hope that shines through the cracks of these characters’ sadness, it will always be present. Life does go on. This type of theatre is sadly often thought to be obsolete in today’s climate, where everything strives to be innovative, shocking, or polemic. “Big Big Sky” definitely disproves that notion. It draws us into the big big hearts of these characters in a beautifully low-key way. It may be a harsh world they live in, but warmth glows from this snapshot of their lives, which will stay in your heart longer than any photograph.

 

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Robert Day

 


Big Big Sky

Hampstead Theatre until 11th September

 

Previously reviewed at this venue in 2021:
The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | July 2021

 

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Cops

Cops

★★★

Southwark Playhouse

Cops

Cops

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 17th January 2020

★★★

 

“Sometimes it’s like a fine vintage wine, in other places, it’s dusty and antiquated”

 

Southwark Playhouse starts the new year Stateside as it transports us over to the Windy City. Cops, a new play by Tony Tortora, focuses on personal conflicts and professional unrests.

Chicago, 1957. A time and place where change and betterment is on the horizon in every aspect of society. But the murky underworld of Mafia crime and dirty police corruption is hard to erase. Stan (Roger Alborough), Rosey (Daniel Francis), Eulee (James Sobol Kelly), and Foxy (Jack Flammiger) work together in the Police Department. They may be of different ages, ethnicities and social standings, but their joint disgruntled attitudes towards the work and each other bonds them together. They’re on the hunt to bring in a gangster-come-star witness, before the Mob gets their hands on him. However, the operation soon becomes trickier as the cops get more entangled in the thickening plot, whilst their lives and relationships with each other begin to crumble.

There’s definite Arthur Miller-type undertones to Tony Tortora’s writing. Stan, for example, is a downtrodden everyman, with only his job to live for, much like Miller’s Wille Loman from his masterpiece Death of a Salesman. Yet, like Foxy who yawns during a long all-night stake out, it’s hard to not want to do the same at times. The stake out scenes in particular move at a dirge-like pace. The dialogue may be fast moving, but any physical, engaging action comes in dribs and drabs. The storyline of mob violence and corruption in the police department promises being full of grit and suspense but is rather lacklustre in final execution. Tortora is excellent at nailing the vernacular and true day-to-day movements of a 1950’s cop, but for theatrical purposes, this doesn’t translate into being engaging enough.

Where Tortora and director Andy Jordan do shine is the examination of interactions between the intergenerational, interracial work colleagues. The office offers a dissection of society at the time. The throwaway un-PC comments, and racial nicknames flung around by Stan, reminds you how much things have changed since 1957, but also how relevant social injustice still is today.

The cast give near-faultless performances as each and everyone one are believable and truthful in their delivery. From the scenes of bantering office talk, to introverted moments of opening up their hearts, they balance the fine line between the two with utmost precision.

The set (designed by Anthony Lamble), accurately captures the look of an American cop shop of the 1950’s. Maps, documents and photographic evidence plaster the walls. Archaic ash trays are dotted everywhere. The four detectives have their own desk. A charming, subtle touch from Lamble is that each workspace is arranged in the style of each characters personality. Stan’s is messy and full of paperwork, Rosey’s impeccably clean and organised. The back half of the stage is exposed brickwork and undecorated windows, making the transitions from office to stake-out in an abandoned warehouse run smoothly.

As contradictory as it sounds, this is a refreshingly traditional piece of new work. Cops examines masculinity in a classical style and structure that is fitting of the time period the play is set. Minus some in-jokes for the modern day audience, the play feels like it could have been written sixty years ago – for better and for worse. Sometimes it’s like a fine vintage wine, in other places, it’s dusty and antiquated. Authenticity is clearly the driving force, meaning captivating, gripping action is sadly put on the back burner.

 

Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Robert Day

 

Cops

Southwark Playhouse until 1st February

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Oneness | ★★★ | May 2019
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Afterglow | ★★★½ | June 2019
Fiver | ★★★★ | July 2019
Dogfight | ★★★★ | August 2019
Once On This Island | ★★★ | August 2019
Preludes | ★★★★ | September 2019
Islander | ★★★★★ | October 2019
Superstar | ★★★★ | November 2019
Potted Panto | ★★★★ | December 2019

 

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