The Play About my Dad
Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed – 29th June 2018
“Hannah Britland doesn’t disappoint, she is a brilliant Boo”
It is hard to imagine the horror of being caught up in Katrina, the category five hurricane that caused catastrophic damage along the gulf coast of America in 2005. Along with claiming some 2,000 lives it caused $125 billion worth of property damage as well as having a profound impact on the environment.
To do justice to the panic, horror and loss those involved must have experienced in a stage show is very difficult. However Boo Killebrew has written a play that travels through many times and places and successfully achieves that.
The Play About My Dad is an autobiographical account of her own experiences of the event along with stories of some that experienced the full force of Katrina. Running alongside these stories, which are fictionalised versions of what likely happened to them, is her reaction to the breakdown of her parent’s marriage and the subsequent reconnection with her father following his survival of the hurricane.
The two main characters are Boo herself (Hannah Britland) and her father Larry (David Schaal), a doctor called into action when the storm struck and who serves as the play’s narrator. They are performing and writing a play that tells these stories and it is an interesting vehicle that allows Boo to interact with the characters despite her having been partying in New York at the time.
We are introduced to the young Thomas family who decide not to evacuate to safer ground. Joel Lawes as Jay Thomas projects a relaxed southern approach to life and always has a positive approach to survival not necessarily shared by his wife Rena (Annabel Bates) and son Michael (T’Jai Adu-Yeboah). Also staying put is Larry’s elderly former nanny Essie Watson, played with conviction by Miquel Brown. Ammar Duffus and Nathan Welsh play two Emergency Medical Technicians and they connect and interact well every time they are on stage. There is pessimism and hope in equal measures. Juliet Cowan makes brief but impactive appearances as Sallye Killebrew.
Charlotte Espiner’s set is very basic with pallets, boxes and sheets of plywood that gives the impression of both protection and reconstruction. The lighting design from Ali Hunter is simple but effective with great use of blue under lighting to represent the incoming water and a chilling session when we listen to events in complete darkness.
The direction from Stella Powell-Jones moves the ninety minute no interval play along well ensuring attention is never lost. Elena Peña’s sound design is clever keeping the studio levels of a 175mph hurricane low, though never out of mind.
I felt the cast did everything expected of them, and rarely did I think they were acting. For the writer though, it must be difficult watching someone portray her on stage. In the playbook she writes ‘And as for the actress playing Boo, please make her really likable’. Hannah Britland doesn’t disappoint, she is a brilliant Boo.
Reviewed by Steve Sparrow
Photography by Harry Livingstone
The Play About my Dad
Jermyn Street Theatre until 21st July
Previously reviewed at this venue
Tomorrow at Noon
Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed – 1st May 2018
“these three jewels of plays sparkle like the brightest stars”
Tomorrow at Noon consists of three short plays written in response to Noel Coward’s Tonight at 8.30. Tom Littler, the Artistic Director of the Jermyn Street Theatre says that he has ‘always been fascinated by the idea of theatre as conversation,’ and the ‘conversation’ between these plays and Coward’s originals is a fascinating and successful one. There are many new plays being performed in London theatres at the moment, and in this firmament of creation these three jewels of plays sparkle like the brightest stars. All three are beautifully written and were chosen from the three hundred and ninety submissions received in a competition launched last year.
Smite is written by Morna Young, in response to Coward’s ‘The Astonished Heart.’ We see two women in a room having an awkward conversation. We don’t know what their relationship is, who they are. It is the way this relationship is gradually revealed that holds the attention so well. Laura Morgan is superb as Allie, the younger woman. She is totally convincing, funny, vulnerable and strong. Laila Pyne is less credible as the older, artistic woman, partly because she does not look old enough for the part, the age difference between the two women in the play is important, and this casting does not serve it well. Pyne is, however, excellent in the other two plays. The set is a simple evocation of a luxury apartment, and works well, but the use of sudden blackout and loud music to signify the passage of time is intrusive and unnecessary. Young has taken the basic elements of Coward’s story and created a play that is contemporary and relevant, very different from the original but true to its essence. In her introduction to the play, Young says ‘I have challenged myself to write a feminist play featuring two women talking about an absent man. On paper it would fail the Bechdel test. My aim was to look beyond the individual man but, rather, at our societal stuctures.’ She succeeded.
The Thing Itself by Emma Harding is set in rural Iceland during a volcanic eruption that has blacked out the daylight. It is a response to Coward’s ‘Shadow Play.’ A woman, Vic, is drinking in a bar when her partner, Simone, comes in. It is not immediately obvious that they are a couple, and things get more interesting when the subject of divorce is raised. Elaine Claxton’s Vic is immediately likable and interesting, holding it together with vodka and humour, she is preoccupied with an incident from the past and a heavy responsibility she feels. Laila Pyne’s Simone is American, vivacious and interesting. There is a lot of delicious humour and real emotional engagement. When Simone leaves the stage Laura Morgan enters as Hanna. She identifies herself as a figment of Vic’s imagination. There is, perhaps, an echo of Coward’s ‘Blithe Spirit’ here, a ghost, or an imagining can both change us. Harding says that she chose to write a response to ‘Shadow Play’ because she was ‘drawn to this lack of certainty, as well as the metaphorical possibilities of its title. After all, shadows contain things that are hidden or half understood, or that have yet to reveal themselves. They contain secrets, guilt and doubts.’ Hanna sits at the edge of the stage, watching. Her arrival has changed things for Vic and Simone and we are never entirely sure what is real and what is not, a tantalising uncertainty that works really well. The set is, again, simple but evocative of place and the flickering lights and sounds that convey change work this time, as they are subtle and purposeful.
Glimpse is written by Jenny Ayres as a response to Coward’s ‘Still Life.’ The stage is transformed into a railway station in the mid nineteen nineties and Clarke, the station supervisor, played by Laila Pyne, is cleaning up vomit when Elaine Claxton’s Mags arrives. She sits on a bench and settles to wait. She has many bags and a shopping trolley. A very hungover young woman, Laura Morgan, is discovered by Clarke, and dumped next to Mags on the seat. As the play evolves we see a touching relationship between three very different women. Clarke is hard working and anxious for her promotion, but also protective of Mags. Morgan’s Woman returns to the station to thank the other two for helping her. Mags waits. Elaine Claxton’s performance as Mags is quite wonderful, and a complete contrast with her portrayal of Vic in ‘The Thing Itself.’ Mags is touching, hilarious, infuriating and someone we immediately want to know more about. This is the stand out performance of the evening. The set is convincing and atmospheric, and the ingenious use of lighting and sound to show the trains passing works well. Ayres says that she set the play in the mid nineties against the background of rail privatisation because she ‘wanted to create an atmosphere of change both on a personal and a national level.’ A choice that works beautifully.
All three pieces are directed by Stella Powell-Jones with a lightness of touch and sensitivity that allows the actors to shine. Louise Whitemore’s sets are perfectly judged to evoke the different atmosphere of the three plays and Emily Stuart’s costume design works well within the context of the time periods. Tim Mascall and Tom Attwood’s lighting and sound design, apart from the jarring moments in the first play, complement and add to the set and atmosphere.
This is a delightful and worthwhile evening of theatre and I hope that all three plays go on to be seen by a wider audience.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Robert Workman
Tomorrow at Noon
Jermyn Street Theatre until 15th May
Also at this venue