Tag Archives: Ruth Sullivan

The Net

★★½

Tristan Bates Theatre

The Net

The Net

Tristan Bates Theatre

Reviewed – 16th August 2019

★★½

 

No doubt, this is still a very relevant and prevalent story. But the manner in which it has been tackled seems a bit reductive …

 

This is the age-old story of ‘us versus them’. Directed by Samara Gannon, The Net is set on an unnamed contested piece of land divided by a wall, a pair of women on each side laying their claim. The land is barren, but still the fight goes on. One side says they “feel” that this is their land, that it’s time they took what was rightfully theirs; the other argues that their villages were razed to the ground, that this was, until recently, their home.

No doubt, this is still a very relevant and prevalent story. But the manner in which it has been tackled seems a bit reductive, having two sides of the argument come so plainly to the table, and ending up almost exactly where you would expect, with everyone having some kind of revelation about their enemies, notwithstanding a little bloodshed along the way. Granted, The Net takes a slight curve in the normal plot trajectory, but it’s not shocking enough that we don’t see what’s round the bend.

The staging (Sally Sommerville-Woodiwis) is quite beautiful: a patchwork of mismatching fishing nets, intertwined with trinkets and what look like either crystal balls or Christmas baubles, make up the dividing wall. This serves both to explain how one might conceivably break through, and to allow the audience to see both sides. The fact of it being made by something so easily broken isn’t really addressed, but it’s much of a muchness – the wall is there, people are afraid to break through, other people are afraid that they might.

There are abundant sound effects (Ruth Sullivan), denoting the closing in of the unseen army, or splices between the present moment and individual monologues, but very often it’s unclear what these sounds are supposed to be. Coursing electricity is used, for example, to bring us back to the conflict at hand, with no correlation to the plot. The sound of body-slaps (I think?) and whispers is used as an undercurrent for a couple of monologues, but again, I don’t understand their relevance.

The production extols its inclusion of all ages in the telling of this story, “from 16 to 70”. Sue Moore, playing da Silva’s grandmother, is a wonderful addition in theory. Unfortunately, her range is limited from mild annoyance all the way to mild frustration. She does push herself in one emotionally vexing monologue recounting her daughter’s death, but the moment is short-lived.

Sarah Agha, at the other end of the age range (I’m presuming she’s sixteen), expresses her character’s ongoing trauma and naivety faithfully. Yvonne Wan and Marta de Silva are similarly engaging. Though all three performances are a little overwrought at times, I can’t see how it could be avoided in this narrative. Whilst this experience would no doubt be extremely stressful, keeping the emotional anxiety at eleven all the way through the play is quite exhausting.

This is certainly a story that needs telling, but it feels a little like something that should tour disputed borders, or secondary schools, rather than performing to an already (mostly) left-leaning London crowd. This kind of story should provoke a response, but instead the audience leaves feeling much the same about such conflicts as they did when they entered.

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Ewa Ferdynus

 

Camden Fringe

The Net

Tristan Bates Theatre until 17th August as part of Camden Fringe 2019

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Sad About The Cows | ★★ | May 2019
The Luncheon | ★★★ | June 2019
To Drone In The Rain | ★★ | June 2019
Class | ★★★★ | July 2019
Sorry Did I Wake You | ★★★★ | July 2019
The Incident Pit | ★½ | July 2019
When It Happens | ★★★★★ | July 2019
Boris Rex | ★★ | August 2019
All The Little Lights | ★★★★★ | August 2019
The Geminus | ★★ | August 2019

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

Happy Days
★★★★★

The Tower Theatre

Happy Days

Happy Days

The Tower Theatre

Reviewed – 17th April 2019

★★★★★

 

“Jones and Sullivan have done Beckett justice – a daunting achievement of which many have fallen short”

 

If you’re not familiar with this Samuel Beckett play, first staged in New York in 1961, it follows the daily routine of Winnie, a woman buried up to her waist in a mound of earth. She has a bag of little things that help her get through the day: a toothbrush, a hand mirror, makeup, a hat, a music box. She does her best to maintain her cheery demeanour in spite of everything. Winnie’s husband, Willie, is ever-present, but mostly hidden behind the mound. A masterpiece of absurdism, Happy Days is essentially an hour and forty-minute monologue.

To say the play is challenging, both technically and dramatically, is an understatement. An exercise in anti-theatre, it purposefully breaks all the rules: it’s static, without plot, quiet, adagio, and abstruse. These are all pitfalls for theatremakers, but Robert Pennant Jones’s production with Ruth Sullivan (Winnie) transcends. Jones and Sullivan have done Beckett justice – a daunting achievement of which many have fallen short. They’ve beautifully expressed his insight into empty lives, and people starving for genuine connection. The play feels as relevant today as it was sixty years ago.

The set design (Max) is striking – immediately impressive when you enter the space. Where soft earth or sand is normally used for the mound, Max has crafted a dramatic mountain of sharp shale. The ominous black rocks emphasise the harsh and unforgiving nature of Winnie’s imprisonment. The design leans somewhat into the interpretation that the play’s setting could be Hell.

Peggy Ashcroft, a famous former Winnie, once described the role as “the Hamlet for female actors.” Ruth Sullivan’s performance is as exceptional as the part demands. She expertly plays the veneer of chipper positivity over a profound sadness – the desperate strain beneath Winnie’s apparently breezy attempts to communicate with Willie (Ian Hoare). With the lightest touch, she allows us glimpses into the vastness of Winnie’s loneliness. Tears pool in her eyes before she pulls back with an apologetic smile and sigh: “Oh well… Mustn’t complain…” Sullivan portrays an intellectual, curious, loving woman deprived of stimulation. Neglected. Her joy at the smallest shred of acknowledgement is heart-breaking. Her vulnerability is devastating.

Sullivan’s flawless timing shows a deep sense for the rhythms of Beckett’s language. Her characterisation is so natural it ideally contrasts with the bizarreness of her situation. A dense, enigmatic, nearly two-hour monologue dares an audience not to be bored. But Sullivan is captivating. She lifts the lines, bringing out the poetry in Beckett’s writing. Winnie is delightful, silly, and endearing. She is also acutely suffering, and holding back oceans of anguish. Sullivan’s ability to communicate all of this, while stuck in place from the waist (and later neck) down, is marvellous.

If you’re a Beckett fan, do not miss this show. If you’re new to Beckett, grab this opportunity to discover his genius. Sullivan’s superlative performance deserves a packed house. It’s one you won’t forget.

 

Reviewed by Addison Waite

Photography by David Sprecher and Robert Piwko

 


Happy Days

Tower Theatre until 20th April

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
To Kill a Mockingbird | ★★★½ | October 2018
Table | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Seagull | ★★★ | November 2018
Talk Radio | ★★★½ | March 2019

 

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