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Posts Tagged ‘Erin Doherty’

I have to confess I wasn’t looking forward to this. It wasn’t received well at the Edinburgh Festival last August, when it was in two parts with a total playing time of 5.5 hours. The anticipation of even one part at just over four hours filled me with dread. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much!

It’s set in a future where men and women are segregated after a plague which killed many men. They believe the women are infected carriers. Same sex partnerships have, by necessity, become the norm and in their half of The Divide the women partner with one another as MaMa and MaPa, the former having children by some form of artificial insemination. Male children are sent to the other half of the divide when they come of age. There is a governing council with three parties whose names speak for themselves – orthodox, moderate and progressive – ruled by the Book of Certitude. The story revolves around the orthodox Clay family, and in particular brother and sister Elihu and Soween, told in flashback by the latter reading her teenage diary which goes on become a book, but its Elihu who threatens the equilibrium of this dystopian state when he falls in love with Giella, the daughter of progressives, whom his sister has already identified as her future life partner.

There was too much talking direct to the audience at the expense of character interaction, but given it was written in prose as a diary / memoir, that’s not surprising. The staging is well paced and it didn’t feel like 3.5 hours playing time; in fact, it felt shorter than last week’s marathons, John and Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Annabel Bolton’s production is full of invention, with great use of projections and curtains, and has an organic flow to it. At first I found the black / white palette a bit dull, but I warmed to it. The big surprise was a live ensemble and 26-piece choir and Christopher Nightingale’s music added much to the feel of the piece.

The role of Soween is huge and Erin Doherty, who has already impressed me three times in the last year, is sensational, investing an extraordinary amount of emotion into her performance. Jake Davies as Elihu and Weruche Opia as Giella are also terrific, with a fine ensemble who have learnt their parts for an unfathomably short run of ten days.

It owes something to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaidens Tale and it’s the most un-Ayckbourn of Ayckbourn plays, which wasn’t even meant to be a play. It’s a cry for tolerance and a rage against fundamentalism, much lighter than you might think, and an evening I wasn’t looking forward to became a very pleasant surprise indeed.

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A musical about an adventure playground in a suburb of Bristol in the 70’s doesn’t sound that promising, but its written by master playwright Jack Thorne, the man behind the Harry Potter plays, and directed by a directorial master, Jeremy Herrin. Stephen Warbeck’s score is so unconventional, I’d prefer to call it a musical play – think London Road, but not sung dialogue – and it’s anarchic and playful, with a great big heart. I loved it.

It’s based on Thorne’s dad’s real life experience in the Bristol adventure play movement. Rick, who we’d today call a teaching assistant, tries to recruit young teens to build an adventure playground in a troubled part of town. He works in the local secondary school, he visits parents and he tries to engage the kids. It takes a long while, but he makes it and six kids work with him creating something wild and fun. Even the head teacher approves (it’s on school land formerly earmarked for a maths block). It gets burnt down by vandals, so they rebuild it and take turns guarding it, until one of them is attacked and their world comes tumbling down.

The score is made up of short songs and snatches, played by just three musicians, but they do help tell the story. The set is, well, an adventure playground. The characterisations are terrific, with theee adults playing adults, including Calum Callaghan as gentle, empathetic Rick and six adults playing the kids, with feisty, cheeky Fiz at the centre, played superbly by Erin Doherty (who also impressed in a very different role in Wish List at the Royal Court recently). Fiz’s sister Debbie isn’t involved with the playground; she’s been following in her mother’s footsteps sleeping around, and is now pregnant by one of them, with two of the playground boys candidates! Seyi Omooba follows her auspicious professional debut in Ragtime with another very different but equally impressive performance as tomboy Tilly. Josef Davies is great as the skinhead who isn’t as hard as he looks, as is Enyi Okoronkwo as timid Talc with a crush on Fiz.

Sometimes the accents and kidspeak means words are missed, and there’s a lot of bad language, but that adds to the realism and authenticity. I thought it was original, edgy and captivating. Only one more week to catch it in Kingston.

 

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Once upon a time we made things in this country, in places called factories, on production lines, where people worked. We exported those jobs to places where labour rates were a lot cheaper. Then we got new factories called call centres, which enabled us to sell things to people more cheaply. When we started buying things online, warehouses joined the call centres as the new factories. At the same time we out-sourced welfare benefits, which became claimant production lines, inhuman, inflexible tick-box processes. This excellent new play juxtaposes both of these phenomena.

Tamsin looks after her younger brother Dean, who has OCD, a life changing condition which the authorities fail to understand. She’s just got a job as an agency temp in the packing department of a warehouse, working alongside Luke, who’s filling time before he continues his education. They are attracted to one another and there’s some charming wooing. At the warehouse it’s all about rules and productivity targets, a bit like those factories where they made things, but more sophisticatedly measured and rigid. The supervisor is empathetic but confined by the procedures. Dean & Tamsin’s unsuccessfully navigate the benefits system while Tamsin try’s to navigate the new world of work. Another play to make you feel guilty about the society we’ve become.

Katherine Soper’s impressive debut is a beautifully written piece, with well drawn characters. Everything about Matthew Xia’s production is sensitive to the material. The performances by Erin Doherty as Tamsin, Joseph Quinn as Dean, Shaquille Ali Yebuah as Luke and Aleksander Mikic as the supervisor are delicate and nuanced.

Great new writing at the Royal Court.

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