Thursday, 16 November 2017

Review Miss Julie


A perfectly pitched production of a 19th century playwright's pioneering drama thrills Peter Barker.

Miss Julie
by August Strindberg
Adapted by Howard Brenton
From a literal translation by Agnes Broomé

Danse Macabre
http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/

The daughter of a Swedish aristocratic gatescrashes the servants' midsummer eve's party on her father's country estate.

So begins a passionate and emotionally intense version of August Strindberg's one-act naturalist tragedy from 1888 in an adaptation by Howard Brenton.

The production starts with minute attention to detail. Valet Jean played by James Sheldon and Izabella Urbanowicz's cook, also his lover, carrying out their menial duties in a working kitchen.

Director Tom Littler carefully paces the show from this slow start to establish an atmosphere of tension and suppressed sexuality.

After the appearance of the young mistress, there is a skilful change of tone and quickening of pace as the deadly emotional dance between servant Jean and Miss Julie gathers momentum.

This is played out in the intimate surroundings of the Jermyn Street Theatre as the audience follows every move in Howard Brenton's three-hander adaptation of Strindberg's play.

Brenton keeps his adaptation in the 1880s, powerfully reflecting Strindberg's teasing out of class and gender within a tempestuous, short-lived relationship across the class divide with all its power shifts.

Charlotte Hamblin is the capricious coquette, almost a young predator until in a convincing switch we glimpse the vulnerability beneath.

As the employee, James Sheldon is a charismatic, handsome presence,  the couple swinging between antagonism and love. 

As the mistress of the kitchen and Jean's betrothed, Izabella Urbanowicz completes a trio of fine performances.

All of which is complemented, in a 90 minute drama in one location, by Louie Whitemore’s exquisite costumes and detailed set, suitably domestic and workaday in constrast to the emotionally violent scenes. Sound from Max Pappenheim adds to the powerful crescendo.

Miss Julie is an oft-performed play but the playwright, with director Littler and a cast extracting every nuance, refresh this Strindberg classic into a thrilling experience and it's a well-deserved green light.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Review Deathtrap


An American comedy thriller famous for its witty play-within-a-play twists and turns fails to impress reviewer Peter Barker.

Deathtrap
by Ira Levin

Give Us A Cluedo
http://deathtraponstage.co.uk/

Sidney Bruhl is a playwright past his prime. "Nothing," he tells his wife Myra, "recedes like success." In spite of this pithy epigram, he hasn't had a hit in his field of crime thrillers for far too long.

Then Clifford, a talented student from Sidney's summer writing school, pens and obligingly posts him the only copy (Deathtrap was written in 1978) of a whodunnit drama for his tutor's opinion - which Sidney realises immediately is a surefire hit.

Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace, best known as Nigel Bates and Kat Slater in Eastenders, take the roles of the Connecticut literary couple. Sam Phillips is the creative writing student and the potential victim of Sidney's desperate ploys to regain his spot as a doyen of crime plays.  

Unfortunately this production of a previous Broadway and West End success is so clunky, it's hard to discern the postmodern twists and turns which made this play such a surefire hit at its première and later incarnations including a movie starring Michael Caine.

Certainly this touring version of the play, directed by Adam Penfold, makes the sharp comedy thriller seem more like a gentle spoof than a caustic look at the genre and witty jibe at the lengths to which ambitious writers will go for ideas and success.

Penfold underestimates the audience's knowledge with heavy-handed use of videos clips showing Dial M For Murder, Witness For The Prosecution, Gaslight and Sleuth.

The actors suffer likewise. Bradley does devious and sometimes angry as Sidney, while Wallace has too little to do as his wife, but makes as much as she can of the frustrated spouse. However their accents drift and again the direction feels distinctly underpowered. Phillips as the student fares a little better.

Beverley Klein as Swedish clairvoyant Helga ten Dorp either steals the scenes or hams it up, according to your point of view. Either way the precision needed for this comedy drama with its deliberate contrivances never emerges.

There are just about enough laughs, plot twists and surprises to keep an audience entertained for the running time of two and a half hours.

However, altogether this feels like a production where the director seems to have too little confidence in Ira Levin's script to do the business and even resorts to unsubtle sound effects designed to make the audience jump in their seats at key moments.

Designer Morgan Large has some fun with the stock whodunnit setting of a large room in a home complete with French windows and a staircase, dressing it with props such as a suit of armour and various weapons from Bruhl’s hit stage plays.

As a newcomer to Deathtrap, the staging and acting in this play felt ponderous to me.

Whatever good points the play may also have are drowned out by poor directing choices from director Penfold. It's a red/amber light.  

Review Glengarry Glen Ross


Francis Beckett is sold a gem of a production as a searing 1980s' David Mamet play shows its true value

 Glengarry Glen Ross 
by David Mamet 

The Real Estate Of The Nation
http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/playhouse-theatre/

Just over 30 years separate David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross and Arthur Miller’s masterpiece Death of a Salesman but they are special for the same reason.

Their sad, broken-down salesmen – Miller’s Willy Loman from 1949, Mamet’s Shelly Levene from 1983 – may be pretty worthless people, plying a parasitic trade, but Miller and Mamet care about them, and they make us care about them too.

The genius of Miller and Mamet is that they put on stage people from whom, in real life, one would recoil – and yet, when those characters get their well-deserved comeuppance, it moves us almost to tears.

Loman and Levene may be symbols of everything that is worst about capitalism. But they are its victims, just as much as the people they gull are victims.

Glengarry Glen Ross is as near a perfect piece of dramatic writing as you’ll find. We get to spend an evening and the following morning with an American real estate company.

We spend the time in the company of four men who earn their commission by gulling people into buying  property they neither want nor need, two men who run the office and batten on their salesmens’ skill, and one man who falls for the salesmens’ wiles. And we are on the edge of our seat all the time.

The salesmen see themselves as the American dream personified: pioneers out on a dusty trail, with only their wits and their courage between them and oblivion.

When Americans talk about rugged individualism, they really mean poor saps like Loman and Levene.

They dress in their habitual uniforms, shabby grey suits, sell grey products designed by someone else, see themselves as cowboys, even as they do the bidding of even greyer men than themselves.

These salesmen also think of themselves as Men, with an upper case M. They dismiss wives and women, their own, if they have them, and those of their customers.

“A man’s his job” growls Shelley, and, when he finally makes a sale: “I’ve got my balls back.”  He tells what he calls his war stories, how cleverly he cajoled the customer, how he held the pen just so.

He thinks his skills, his charm, his beautiful voice, are all you need to succeed in the world. He is wrong.

Miller and Mamet understand that the skill these men have is a wonderful one; and that the exercise of the skill is what gives them self-worth. They think they do it to enrich themselves, but they could get richer sitting behind desks.

What drives them is the adrenaline rush of selling.  They are salesmen. They must sell, just as some people have to write.

I knew a man like that. He sold advertising space, and he was very good at it.  Yet the magazines for which he sold the space despaired of him. He had no interest at all in making sure bills were sent out, or even compiling the information that would enable someone else to send them out.

And it didn’t matter how often he was told to sell no more space to those companies that failed to pay up; he persisted in selling to them. Like Shelly Levene, he closed the deal.  That is what he did.

Levene is played in this production by Stanley Townsend – a startling, brilliant, mesmerising performance. He does not take the easy route of allowing Levene to sound as sad and pathetic as he is.

No, the bluff and bluster never lets up. It pours from his strong, fruity voice, telling the world he is in charge even as he is being pushed contemptuously off the edge.

Christian Slater and Kris Marshall are excellent as Ricky Roma, the younger salesman, and John Williamson, the deskbound agent of Levene's demise with Don Warrington giving solid support, but for me they were little more than foils for Townsend’s towering tour de force.

The night I saw it, Robert Glenister was ill – he had collapsed on stage on Friday and hopes to be back in a few days.  Understudy Mark Carlisle coped with the difficult part of salesman Dave Moss, but I felt for him: he had not had enough time to prepare, or to inhabit the part.

Chiara Stephenson gives us two magnificent and entirely convincing sets, a restaurant and an office, one for each act. Sam Yates directs with the proper respect for Mamet’s fully rounded characters and razor sharp dialogue.

A green light for this set of salesmen who deliver the goods at the Playhouse Theatre.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Review Jamaica Inn


Peter Barker is spirited away to 19th century Cornwall  in an enjoyable if flawed adaptation of a classic romantic thriller.

Jamaica Inn
by Daphne du Maurier
Adapted for the stage by Lisa Evans

The Beasts Of Bodmin
http://tabardtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/jamaica-inn/

A young woman comes to live at an isolated inn in the midst of the Cornish moors with her uncle and aunt, her only surviving family.

But mystery swirls around Jamaica Inn like the howling winds on the moor -  just how does the hostelry, which seems to do little business, make money?

This drama is adapted from Daphne du Maurier's edgy gothic thriller, written in the 1930s but set in the first half of the 19th century.

Jamaica Inn was famously made into an Alfred Hitchcock movie. This adaptation by playwright Lisa Evans comes across as a rollicking tale, a kind of Poldark without the pectorals, played very broadly by a cast of eight directed by Anastasia Revi.

It soon becomes clear the inn is the haunt of murderous smugglers and shipwreckers who lure vessels to their doom onto the rocky shoreline.

At the beginning of the production, the dialogue teeters perilously on the edge of parody. However it settles down into an enjoyable 90 minutes, even if some of the action and script occasionally is not as clear as it could be.

Kimberley Jarvis is a spirited, red haired Mary facing villainy on all sides. As her bruiser of an uncle, Toby Wynn Davies makes a suitably menacing adversary, brandishing pistols and ale with equal relish.

No bodice ripper would of course be complete without some devil-may-care love interest. Here it takes the shape of Jem, her uncle's younger brother nicely played by Samuel Lawrence, who may or may not be on the dark side with his brother.

The design by Maira Vazeou, with Ben Jacobs's lighting, is extremely effective. Using dry ice, horse tackle, ropes and sacks hanging from the ceiling,  they conjure up  the inn and stables, the Cornish shoreline and the moor and the characters sashay around in some splendid costumes.

Several songs are scattered throughout the play and  drive forward the plot. However this can also be at times a weakness as the actors are clearly not trained singers.

There are also moments when both the script and accents of the actors err on the side of caricature. But it's played with such pace that you can just about ignore that and the creaking plot clichés.

For an entertaining hour and a half performed by the cast at a steady gallop under Revi’s direction. it's a solid amber light.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Review The Tailor-Made Man


The story of a once-famous star relegated to obscurity by the Hollywood studios fascinates Tim Gopsill. 

The Tailor-Made Man 
by Claudio Macor

Down And Out And Proud In Hollywood
https://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/

Showbiz sleaze is much in the spotlight at the moment but puritanical Hollywood is seen from a less well-known angle in this production of Claudio Macor’s play The Tailor-Made Man.

It’s the true, surprisingly little-heard of, story of William “Billy” Haines, a silent screen idol who successfully bridged both the silents and the talkies in his career.

However,  he would not stay silent about his love life. He was openly gay, rejected the option of a "lavender marriage" and his sexuality led to his movie career downfall.

Yet Billy, played by Mitchell Hunt, with real verve, is hardly portrayed as a victim, but an engaging and appealing individualist who, in spite of his blacklisting, careered his joyful way through life.

He made a new life for himself with his lifelong partner Jimmie Shields. Theirs was a true love story, for despite Billy's habit of picking up sailors  – the supposed cause of his blacklisting -- the couple remained devoted to the end.

The play is structured around a series of flashbacks with Tom Berkeley as Jimmie telling the intriguing tale of their life together to a movie camera, as if being interviewed. 

Each of these flashbacks is preceded by the clapperboard call of “action!” and ends with “cut!” bellowed through a megaphone before the final “it’s a wrap!”,

At first a novelty, these quickly become gratuitous, increasingly irritating punctuations as the two-act play goes on, as if we hadn’t noticed it was about the movie business.

The story is strong and the play could be consistently very enjoyable. Hunt's portrayal of the film star Haines is compelling.
 
Rachel Knowles also turns in two believable performances, doubling up as enchanting but shrewd Hollywood stars, Pola Negri and Carole Lombard, with a keen sense of the absurd, sending up the whole situation.

The characters each may totter around like ditzy celebrities in gold lamé, martinis in hand, but they offer real support and friendship to the boys when they are in trouble.

At the outset Billy is accused being “lip-lazy", not being animated enough as he mimes speech during his performance for silent film.

However, there is a sharp poignancy when another famous actress Marion Davies, played by Yvonne Lawlor, during the filming of a movie scene talks affectionately to Haines about his real life rather than following the lines.

Indeed,  the play covers the golden age of silent movies and Brian Hodgson’s direction picks up superficially the flickers' style but overdoes it with extravagant gesturing and face-pulling.

In addition the male support roles don't weave the same magic as the female actors and Hunt as Haines.

Berkeley's slightly gauche Jimmie  doesn't convince. Dean Harris also lacks gravitas and menace as the great movie mogul Louis B Mayer, who hires and fires Billy, with no punch in the famous one-liners.

Edwin Flay as his PR and fixer Howard Strickling is dull and flat, giving little impression of how he could have possibly got newspaper editors to bend to Mayer’s will.

Nevertheless, this is a fascinating, well-written play, not about injustice but the triumph of love in overcoming it.

There are hints about well-known gay stars who never came out and endured years of misery, forced to feign a bogus heterosexuality. This story is the antidote. It’s heartening and fun, but the production needs considerable tightening up and it's an amber light.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Review Coriolanus


Coriolanus
by William Shakespeare

The Hero Lies In You
http://bit.ly/RSCRomeMMXVII

In ancient times, before her trusty steed joined her in theatre adventures, TLT was a mighty literary warrior, in  hand to page combat with the classics including Coriolanus.

Yep, in other words, she took Coriolanus for English 'A' Level, a play written by the Bard during the reign of James 1 of England and VI of Scotland round about the time of food shortages and corn riots in the early 17th century.

She also saw the late, lamented Alan Howard in the role from the vertiginous "Gods" at the Aldwych Theatre, then the London outpost of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Now, roll on the years, it's Coriolanus and the Royal Shakespeare Company in a version which curiously manages to combine excitement and blandness all in one production.

Coriolanus is a hero while he is away at war defending the Roman city state, a fighting machine who overcomes allcomers including the attacking armies of Rome's arch enemy, Tullus Aufidius and the Volscian military.

Coriolanus only knows how to speak the language of war and has only ever focussed on channelling resources towards war.

He is urged on by a mother who, in this production, is more politically astute than simply wanting a military hero in the family.

Her son, though, has never had to think outside his own military and domestic sphere, let alone negotiate the politics of central and local government and the distribution of civilian resources.   

Angus Jackson directs Shakespeare's tragedy and civic rumination on a geometric stage with a set of classical simplicity by Robert Innes Hopkins using its depth to good effect. 

The martial and male political forums are placed at a layered distance from a  white marble statue of a magnificent horse laid low by an imperial lion.

The interior female domestic sphere is symbolized by a Venus De Milo, another marble white statue but of a beauteous woman with her arms broken off.

It is a geometric play with Coriolanus at first a part of the geometry of Rome (ok, ok, TLT knows geometry is a Greek invention, but you known what she means!).

But then he becomes a destructive force as he leaves it, in banishment and then revenge, to join the Volscians, laying waste the ritualistic balance of power between the two armies.  

In Shakespeare, especially in a play such as Coriolanus, it is always interesting to see how the writing with its use of formal rhetorical devices still chimes with a modern view of "character".

Sope Dirisu's Coriolanus stands like a tree trunk, which ultimately breaks rather than bends. This visual image remains in the mind but is not matched by his rather unsupple verbal, if clear, delivery.

He and the people around him seem to be in a nebulous, hierarchical, corporate space.

The refined violin and cello strings and short bursts of a live operatic voice create a  feel of the City's elite in tuxedos and bow ties ruling the roost like corporate sponsors refusing to countenance the plebeian pleas for grain.

In this it almost treads on the ground of the National Theatre's 2012 Timon Of Athens but does not go all the way, remaining a kind of no-man's land on clean brown wood floors.

This lack of specificity, despite some design striking touches, combined with the modern dress does not work in the end in its favour. It gives it, especially with the aural strings and trills, a certain blandness.

Hayden Gwynne is a strong Volumnia, the mother of the warrior, who in her interpretation is not so much obsessed with making her son a martial hero as making sure he builds a secure domestic and political family for himself.

After the popular politicians have taken Coriolanus, a vital cog, out of the Roman machine, the scene where  mother, wife and young son plead to save the city is heartrending.

Otherwise, James Corrigan's Aufidius makes an impact, particularly in the ultimate scenes where the final, messy scramble ends in tragedy.

Paul Jesson's Menenius, the wily, good-living patrician, has a clarity and manages to hold the audience with his manoeuvring and arguments.

The Tribunes, the formal political representatives of the people, are nicely characterised by Jackie Morrison and Martina Laird.

However the arguments they put for the fickle populace and the responses of the arrogant elite come through less successfully on the large Barbican stage. 

Charles Aitken is engaging as Cominius, Coriolanus's political colleague and Hannah Morrish is a fetching contrast to Coriolanus's mother as the more delicate wife Virginia. The fighting is well-staged by movement director Lucy Cullingford.

The production is exciting at times and a little plodding at others, especially in the first act.  It's a pleasure to see Coriolanus again but, although there are moments of power, it did feel occasionally rather diluted. It's an upper range amber light.  

Review The Retreat


An acclaimed TV comedy writer's first play has plenty of gags but is kept afloat by a fine cast and director, says Peter Barker.

The Retreat
by Sam Bain

What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love And Understanding?
https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/

Luke is burnt out by his life in London as an investment broker. There’s too much cocaine and too many hookers.

So after meeting Tara, a Buddhist, he grasps the opportunity to go to a spiritual retreat in the wilds of Scotland. 

But the arrival of his ne'er-do-well brother Tony destroys any chance of peace, calm and enlightenment.

The Retreat is Sam Bain’s first play, but he is already well-known as a TV writer - as co-creator of Peep Show, the movie The Four Lions and the recent sitcom Fresh Meat.

In this stage debut, his skill as a comedy writer is evident with a muscular use of language to produce laugh-out-loud moments. 

Bain may deliver laughs from an original and quirky viewpoint, but the play's plot and story nevertheless lacks any real point, punch or character development.

About the only serious points it makes are that cults are bollocks, the slings and arrows of life are unavoidable, and family is important. These are not original thoughts, but at least Bain makes them funny.

A former actor in Dr Who Samuel Anderson, as the Buddhist monk wannabe Luke, gives an assured straightman performance, while Adam Deacon proves himself to be be a definite comic talent as streetwise but inept brother Tony.

Yasmine Akram as Tara has a tougher challenge with an even more thinly written part  and it is to her credit that she makes something substantial out of the slightest of the three roles.

The set by Paul Wills depicts a stone hut in the present day Scottish Highlands and is an impressive facsimile of the real thing.

Kathy Burke, as you might expect from an experienced director and comedy actor, directs a slick production that delivers the gag-to-gag laughs and makes the 90-minute running time seem a great deal shorter, earning the play an  amber light.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Review Picasso


Picasso
by Terry d'Alfonso

Genius Artist (NSOH*) Seeks Muse And Sex
http://theplaygroundtheatre.london/

An attractive new venue is always something to celebrate and two have come along at nearly the same time.

The refurbishment of The Playground Theatre, now run by Anthony Biggs and Peter Tate in West London follows the opening of the Bridge Theatre on the River Thames.

In its own way, it is as good a space and, some would say, far more of a blank canvas, accommodating up to 200 people and with good sightlines from flexible seating.

It also has a smart but welcoming cafe/bar and aims to programme a diverse mix of international and home-grown work with classical concerts, dance and film, as well as theatre.

The first production, Picasso, combines many of the disciplines the space aims to serve.

Written by woman writer, the late Terry D'Alfonso, it started as a fantasy piece with Picasso in the dock with a lawyer defending him against the accusations of the women in his life.

However. somewhere from then to now, it lost its way and become a piece where the artist’s wives and lovers, three women on stage and three on video become mere props worshipping an artistic genius.

Even before the current situation where the borderline and beyond of celebrity, ambition and sexual abuse have come under the microscope as never before, this feels like an opportunity missed to direct the play, even if it were not possible to change the words, in a way that examines these same issues through the cult of Picasso.

The production has a curiously dated attitude towards the artist, with Picasso,, played by Peter Tate, as the centre of female veneration, Only one of the trio of women on stage, Adele Oni's Geneviève LaPorte's older self,  is allowed a very fleeting facial expression of disgust.

And maybe there is a hint of, frankly understandable power play, by his last wife, Jacqueline - Alejandra Costa - as his body weakens but otherwise these seem like tamed, put-upon women who don't ever understand Picasso's lusty, bull-like appetites for sex and procreation .

Perhaps this is somewhat reflected in the programme note of director Michael Hunt who applies the words "jealous" and "jealousy" to two of the women with whom Picasso set up home, had children and then abandoned as he moved on to the next lover.

It's also a problem that  the three female actors,  including Claire Bowman as Marie-Thérèse Walther another of his younger model lovers and mother of his second child, are also given the role of perfunctory narrators and tend to speak with the same voice.

However, it is a good-looking production with a distinctive, clear cut representation of a bullring and vibrant costume colours from designer Klara Zieglerova and a soundtrack including Steve Reich's  flamenco-inspired Clapping Theme.

The actors playing three of Picasso's partners in the black and white video are Milena Vukotic, Margot Sikabonyi as another version of Marie-Thérèse Walther nnd Sandra Collodel as Dora Maar.

A more down- to-earth-moment did emerge about just how beholden his various partners and children were to him with the cheques his bank allowed him to issue them from time to time. Was it profane that TLT wondered if the artist, whose business was art, put it on expenses?

Nobody would suggest that any portrayal of Picasso should include him donning an apron and washing the family socks.

However this would have worked better as an art installation, with the paintings built up in Matthew Ferguson’s video ,and keeping Picasso’s pronouncements to a minimum, relying on the visuals. The Picasso story could be an insightful good story for our times, but this isn’t it - a lower range amber light. 

Nevertheless TLT and her own motorised sidekick, with such good production values, are looking forward to the next show, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince.

*NSOH - Mock small ad speak for No Sense Of Humour

Review I.E.D.


A new drama about a female officer bringing the worst possible news to military families benefits from a well-written central character and an excellent performance, says Peter Barker. 

I.E.D.
by Martin McNamara

When Death Comes Knocking 
https://www.theatren16.co.uk/ied

A woman army officer has the duty to inform nearest relatives when a serviceman, their loved one, from her unit has been killed.

I.E.D, Martin McNamara's clever and pithy new drama, is set nine years ago during the height, for the British, of the conflict in Afghanistan and is matched by some excellent performances.

The acronym IED stands for "Improvised Explosive Device",  the bombs which are often the weapon of choice for the Taliban waging jihad in Afghanistan.

Captain Agnes Bennett is stationed in London. She's  tough and a seemingly dispassionate female army officer whose duties include the "death knock", breaking the news to military families.

She has carried out 10 such death knocks, with another now in prospect, as she dresses herself after a night of emotionally distant sex with a man met on a singles' website.

McNamara’s script delivers some wit and tellingly effective lines.

He has also created an intriguing and rounded character in Agnes Bennett, played with convincingly curt military focus by Safron Beck, despite, we learn, the emotional toll beneath.

McNamara’s other lead character is Private Iain Maginnis, allocated to assist Agnes as someone who knew the deceased. Jordan Fyffe lends him charm and emotional intelligence, revealing, eventually, another side to the dead man.

Rebecca Lyon, a recent directing graduate from the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, shows a little inexperience in allowing the physical focus to drift away from the centre of the stage.

The sparse furnishings and some glaringly inauthentic military garb also betray a production obviously done on a shoestring.

Playwright McNamara does include at least one clumsy stereotype in the shape of Sarah Jane Charlton's prostitute. However Dickon Farmer fares better as a more convincing one-night stand.

Nevertheless, McNamara has created a memorable character in Agnes Bennett, qualities which Lyon maximises in her direction of Safron Beck's remarkable performance.

For this reason the production, which runs until Saturday, November 11, is worth an amber/green light.

Theatre N16, a hub for new writers and performers which adheres to the Equity Fringe Agreement, is currently looking for a new home. Read more about it here 

Review Poison


Tim Gopsill admires a drama where a divorced couple comes together over the grave of a child, but he finally cannot warm to the play.

Poison
by Lot Vekemans
Translated by Rena Vergano

Love And Other Toxins
https://www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk/

A middle-aged couple, a woman and man, meet up after nearly a decade of separation which started shortly after their son died. 

The man is known only as "He", the woman as "She".

“We are a man and a woman who lost a son, and then each other,” he says to her. “Who lost a son and then themselves and then each other,” she corrects.

He assents, which is the only thing they can agree on as they take their faltering steps to rebuild their love.

Poison is an 80-minute two-hander, examing the fall out of a marriage break up, acted with precision by Claire Price, a blonde sarky ex-wife and Zubin Varla as the  husband who previously walked out on her.

The couple find themselves in a reception room of the cemetery where their young son is buried. The discovery of toxic chemicals in the ground are now disturbing his supposedly final resting place.

The young boy's remains, along with those of others, have to be exhumed and reinterred and his parents have arrived to discuss the situation with cemetery officials.

This is, literally, the poison in the title – but the residue of suffering that killed their love is the real poison in the play itself

Written by Dutch writer Lot Vekemans with English translation by Rena Vergano, Poison has been an international success, playing in many languages all over the world, including New York, Berlin and, of course, The Netherlands.

It's concise and focussed, consisting solely of the conversation  between the former spouses,

Simon Daw's set is minimal: two upholstered benches, a coffee machine and a water cooler with mostly full-on lighting from Mark Doubleday.
 
The drama is driven solely by the two former partners' painful conversation, although there is a possible deception involved.

The only movement comes from the couple’s desperate gestures, but Paul Miller’s direction maintains the tension – relieved now and then by the odd nervous laugh.

There's probably a lot of truth in the reactions. The ending, when it comes, has an inevitability, yet beforehand hadn't seemed certain. 

This would make be a wonderful radio play with listeners forming their own picture of the couple in anguish.

However, despite the fine, detailed acting, it is also repetitive, with, deliberately,  the same verbal and physical expressions repeated, and it does become tedious and distancing.

As a chronicle of unrelieved grief,  it could have torn the heart, but in the end it gets an amber light.