Posts Tagged ‘Lily Arnold’

This is based on Emma Donoghue’s novel, which she adapted for the screen and now for the stage. Director Cora Bissett has added music by Kathryn Joseph and herself for this world premiere in Stratford East. I haven’t read the book, but I much admired the film and I think this is another very successful adaptation, more moving than the film, as you might expect from a live experience..

A girl is abducted and imprisoned for seven years by ‘Big Nick’. He keeps her in a very basic shed in his garden that she later calls Room. He visits to bring supplies, remove waste and rape her. She gives birth to Jack in Room, where she brings him up for five years. They establish a routine involving reading, exercise and imagination and Jack is happy in the only place he knows. He thinks World is something that only exists in the TV set. His mother wants them to escape and hatches a plot where Jack feigns death, is wrapped in a carpet and taken away by Big Nick in the back of his pick-up, from which he escapes when its stationary. It works and his mother is subsequently rescued.

In the second half we have a whirlwind of police questioning and medical examination until they go home to her adopted parents, now separated, where they are confronted with difficulties adjusting and settling in World, from Jack’s inability to climb stairs to her dad’s rejection of him. What was hopeless in Room becomes hopeful. There have of course been many cases like this, which itself may be based on a true story, but this manages to successfully convey both captivity and post-captivity trauma. The idea to have an older Jack speaking his more complex thoughts whilst shadowing young Jack really works well.

Lily Arnold’s design, with great use of projections, is excellent and Cora Bissett’s staging both assured and sensitive. The music didn’t always work for me, but in the second half there were several excellent songs that fitted the story. A lot of its success is down to casting and the emotional weight of the play is beautifully handled by Whitney White as Ma. Fela Lufadeju is a brilliantly omnipresence, echoing and illustrating but never overwhelming or stealing Jack’s story. Harrison Wilding as Young Jack is simply extraordinary, in Room clinging to Ma and everything familiar, then in fear, awe and wonder in World.

 Time to hot-foot it east to Stratford.

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I think I was born too late. J B Priestly and Terrence Rattigan are amongst my favourite 20th century playwrights and Ealing comedies amongst my favourite films. I therefore relish any opportunity to catch a J B Priestly play and booked for this rare revival six months ago! It may not be vintage Priestly, but it’s a charming, original (yes!) and thoroughly entertaining piece with a uniformly superb set of performances.

J B Priestly specialised in domesticity with gentle humour and a moral dimension. Here, we’re in suburban north London in the 1930’s where the Redfern’s and their adult daughter have Mrs Redfern’s sister and brother-in-law to stay following their return from a posting in the Far East. George Redfern is in the paper business, his daughter Elsie is about to get engaged, Bernard bangs on about life in the colonies and Lucy is a nag who criticises everything. So far, so suburban.

Imagine the shock when George confesses to his daughter, her new fiancée and the in-laws that he’s a crook. The engagement is off, as are the in-laws. Is this what George wanted? Is it true? Does his wife know? Then, as in his now most famous play, an inspector calls.

Though it’s a touch slow at the start, Oscar Toeman’s production soon becomes a delightful and charming light comedy. The confession is so at odds with what you’ve seen up to that point, it differentiates the play from its contemporaries or indeed much that has followed it. It has that warm feel of an Ealing comedy and, like The Ladykillers, a secret produces a delicious turn of events. Lily Arnold’s 30’s living room set is by necessity sparse, given the lack of space but, together with splendid period costumes, it perfectly captures the time and place.

Whatever you think of the play, you could not resist as fine a set of performances as you’d wish to see. Timothy Speyer is terrific as pompous brother-in-law Bernard as is Lynette Edwards as his righteous and indignant wife. Robert Goodale keeps George deadpan so you’re never sure whether he’s a crook, a joker or cleverly orchestrating events. Karen Ascoe as his wife Dorothy is in the background for much of the first half, but comes into her own after the interval and is masterly at the play’s conclusion.

This was only Priestly’s second play, twelve years before the other inspector called, and you can see the foundations for that later play being laid – all is not what it seems. I’ve never seen the film they made from it and it hasn’t been staged in London in the 30+ years I’ve lived here, so yet again huge congratulations to the Finborough Theatre for uncovering it. Another little gem.


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