Tag Archives: Tom Francis

Chutney – 3 Stars

Chutney

Chutney

The Bunker

Reviewed – 14th November 2018

★★★

“There are a few moments sprinkled throughout where the asides subside, and the story and characters are allowed to actually breathe”

 

Chutney is a play brimming with potential – an intriguing premise, intelligent intentions, slick design, and a talented pair of actors helming the two-hander. Despite having all the recipe for brilliance, however, not all the ingredients are used effectively.

Reece Connolly’s play aims to transpose the murderous couple dynamic seen in the likes of Macbeth and Sweeney Todd to the thoroughly middle class Gregg (Will Adolphy) and Claire (Isabel Della-Porta). After primally killing a dog one evening, the pair ignite a bloodlust that they find in equal parts exhilarating and terrifying as it consumes their lives, and the paranoia of their misdeeds starts to infect their relationship. It’s an exciting setup for a story, but the script unrelentingly dismisses the old adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ with a constant barrage of narration and exposition to the audience; having the characters incessantly explain what they are thinking at any given moment removes all notion of subtext, and frequently kills the dramatic potential for scenes. Claire and Gregg will often deliver intercutting monologues to the audience which would have been more far more engaging as dialogue between the two where they are forced to challenge and change each other. Instead, it at times feels like two one-person shows simply running parallel.

It’s a shame the script falters in this way, as Connolly’s writing is often witty, sharp, and poetic. There are a few moments sprinkled throughout where the asides subside, and the story and characters are allowed to actually breathe – moments such as Claire drunkenly dancing with a crossbow, the couple reservedly eating pasta, and a particularly enthralling confrontation in the second act are all stellar, and made it all the more disappointing that more of the script did not place an equal amount of faith in the audience to engage with the story. It is also in these moments that Adolphy and Della-Porta are allowed to shine, finding opportunities to bring depth and nuance to the characters, and delivering energetic and intense performances.

The design helps to gloss over the script’s shortcomings, with Matt Cater’s sumptuous lighting and Ben Winter’s biting sound lending weight and impact to dramatic peaks that would have otherwise been lacking. Jasmine Swan’s aesthetically delightful middle-class kitchen set also depicts the world of the play very effectively, and Georgie Staight’s direction incorporates this with the actors to create some striking imagery.

Ultimately, however, it all feels hollow. It’s always concerning when the writer’s note in a programme claims the play is achieving or exploring ideas that simply aren’t present in what transpired on stage. Chutney, unfortunately, is one such example of this. It aims to critique the middle-class utopia of Britain but, for a play which spends the majority of its runtime lambasting the audience with quips and asides, finds itself with very little to say.

 

Reviewed by Tom Francis

Photography by Rah Petherbridge

 


Chutney

The Bunker until 1st December

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Ken | ★★★ | January 2018
Electra | ★★★★ | March 2018
Devil With the Blue Dress | ★★ | April 2018
Reboot:Shorts | ★★★ | April 2018
Conquest | ★★★★ | May 2018
Grotty | ★★★★ | May 2018
Guy | ★★★½ | June 2018
Kiss Chase | ★★★ | June 2018
Libby’s Eyes | ★★★★ | June 2018
Nine Foot Nine | ★★★★ | June 2018
No One is Coming to Save You | ★★★★ | June 2018
Section 2 | ★★★★ | June 2018
Breathe | ★★★★ | August 2018
Eris | ★★★★ | September 2018
Reboot: Shorts 2 | ★★★★ | October 2018
Semites | ★★★ | October 2018

 

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

 

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A Very Very Very Dark Matter – 4 Stars

A Very Very Very Dark Matter

A Very Very Very Dark Matter

Bridge Theatre

Reviewed – 29th October 2018

★★★★

“the joviality imbues a sense of giddy discomfort to the atmosphere as the script and the cast expertly squeeze every ounce of black humour out”

 


With his unique brand of dark humour and storytelling, Martin McDonagh has authored countless classics, from The Pillowman to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Naturally, then, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding his latest play that dismantles the glorification of nineteenth-century writers like Hans Christian Anderson and Charles Dickens. Does it deliver? Very very very much.

The play centres around the notion that all of Anderson’s work was actually written by a Congolese pigmy named Marjory, who he keeps imprisoned in a pendulous box in his attic, and that he takes all the credit for her work (occasionally making edits, such as changing The Little Black Mermaid to just The Little Mermaid). It later transpires that Dickens is doing exactly the same thing with Marjory’s sister. This is of course an allusion to the cultural appropriation and colonialisation of BAME narratives, which McDonagh attempts to heighten by linking it with a time travel plot involving a massacre carried out by King Leopold II of Belgium. However, this never really seems to add anything of substance to the main themes of the play, and leaves you wondering exactly what its purpose was.

This is one of McDonagh’s most comically focussed works, with characters frequently playing directly to the audience and firing off joke after joke. Most land spectacularly, and the joviality imbues a sense of giddy discomfort to the atmosphere as the script and the cast expertly squeeze every ounce of black humour out. Jim Broadbent as Anderson is pitch-perfect, portraying him as lovable and somewhat bumbling, despite having committed the horrific act of enslaving Marjory – he’s the quintessential product of imperialism. Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles makes her stage debut as Marjory and does a formidable job as the driven and unstoppable genius behind Anderson’s work, and Phil Daniels and Elizabeth Berrington are excellently paired as Charles and Catherine Dickens, whose hate-fuelled chemistry makes for some of the show’s most hilarious moments.

Anna Fleischle’s gothic design exacerbates the fairytale-esque quality of the story, with Anderson’s cavernous attic being adorned with marionettes that enhance the disturbing undertones of the subject matter. Matthew Dunster’s direction, too, strikes a just-right balance of not labouring the themes while also not downplaying the intellectual drive of the script. And A Very Very Very Dark Matter has intellectual drive in droves – it asks questions on celebrity, appropriation, oppression, colonialisation, imperialism, authorship, and the nature of stories and time itself. It spends so long asking questions, however, that it forgets to lay the foundation for the audience to find answers. This is a play that will subsequently gnaw away at your mind for a long time, as you ponder the reach of its implications. A Very Very Very Dark Matter takes you on a mesmeric journey, but never quite finds it destination.

 

Reviewed by Tom Francis

Photography by Manuel Harlan

 


A Very Very Very Dark Matter

Bridge Theatre until 6th January

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Julius Caesar | ★★★★★ | January 2018
Nightfall | ★★★ | May 2018
Allelujah! | ★★★★ | July 2018

 

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

 

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