“charmingly explores the joys and trials of these relationships, but was lacking that zip needed to really lift it”
Next time you’re on the Jubilee line, stop off at the library next to Canada Water station. There, along with a good collection of books and a cute café, you can go into a fantastic theatre space. Both large and comfortable, and properly rigged for lighting, Canada Water Theatre is an excellent space to put on a show, a sentiment which Two Gents Productions clearly share. Their production of ‘The Incident’ is playing here, and it is a relationship drama about Jan and Monica. Both teach at the same school, both live in Sweden and both are seemingly in love with each other. The big difference: Jan is Swedish and Monica is from Zimbabwe. The play tackles the couples’ struggles to communicate and understand each other, as well as wider social issues concerning racial politics in Sweden and indeed globally.
The two actors both held their own in this two-hander; however it was Cassandra Hercules playing the part of Monica who really shone. She had the difficult task of articulating racial struggle in a way that wasn’t cliché or too bleak. She was successful, as her whole performance was rich with physical energy and clear connection to her thoughts. David Weiss’ Jan was a much more stuck up and stiff character than Monica, however there were moments where I felt his character came across as particularly cold and cruel, especially when ‘consoling’ Monica when she was upset over past racial prejudices she had experienced.
In terms of the writing, there seemed to be a lot of significance weighted onto lines with clear messages, and not as much attention on the subtext and moments in between. Joakim Daun’s award-winning script has a few of these moments of unnecessary exposition, filling the audience in on information that we can get simply through good direction and use of the space. The scene where Jan informs Monica of her suspension from work was an excellent example of using distance between the actors and fast pace to create energy and plenty of subtext. It would have been fantastic if this quality was present throughout the piece.
The play is an international one, and has been performed all over the world. In the lobby before the show I was able to witness a wonderful mixing of cultures, as Swedish and African audience members were meeting and discussing the upcoming show. The piece charmingly explores the joys and trials of these relationships, but was lacking that zip needed to really lift it.
“a profoundly important drama, and totally riveting”
One of Arthur Miller’s later plays, “Broken Glass”, written in 1994, is as rich and deeply moving as any of his earlier, better known works. Set in 1938, in the context of ‘Kristallnacht’ (the ‘night of broken glass’), it focuses on a Jewish couple living in New York and juxtaposes the personal breakdown of their marriage with the far-off effects of the anti-Jewish outbreaks in pre-war Germany in a challenging and painfully honest way.
Phillip and Sylvia Gellburg are living increasingly separate lives. Phillip is obsessed with getting ahead, in a real estate company where he is the only Jew. Sylvia is disturbed by the news of Kristallnacht from Germany. In a single night, the Nazis destroyed thousands of Jewish homes and businesses, smashing windows and burning synagogues. Haunted by these images in the New York newspapers, she suffers a mysterious paralysis and is unable to move from the waist down. Diagnosed as a psychosomatic reaction by the popular and attractive Dr Harry Hyman, it soon becomes clear that the causes are somewhat more complex.
Michael Matus gives a quite stunning portrait of Phillip; a man uncomfortable in his own skin. Self-loathing and withdrawn he is constantly fighting the temptation to blame himself for his wife’s disability. Matus skilfully shows us how his own anxieties are just as crippling as his wife’s physical immobility. His guilt, coupled with sexual impotence, gives rise to frightening bouts of anger that, later on in the play, betray a tender vulnerability and need for forgiveness.
Amy Marston has to be applauded for her portrayal of the neglected wife. A late replacement to the cast, she conveys a sensitivity and sensuality that still manage to pack a punch. There is also a strong current of sexuality that is only aroused in the presence of the doctor: a relaxed, assured and natural performance from Michael Higgs. An outsider to the marriage he worms his way in nonetheless.
Simon Kenny’s translucent set adds an edgy claustrophobia to proceedings, and encased within the tarnished glass walls is cellist Susie Blankfield. Ed Lewis’ grief-laden score accentuates the production, adding a real emotive power.
“Broken Glass” is not a political play. The events surrounding ‘Kristallnacht’ are, in fact, reduced to a backdrop, but it is a profoundly important drama, and totally riveting – particularly in the second act when the couple confront each other’s raw emotions. The production is further heightened by an equally strong supporting cast who all tread carefully around the action as if walking on broken glass; towards an unforgettable finale that achingly lays bare the true nature of forgiveness.
I hope this show makes the transfer into town, but if not it is well worth venturing out to Watford to catch it while you can.