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Posts Tagged ‘Neil LaBute’

Plays usually cross the Atlantic with ease, but I’m not sure this one has. It’s set on a US college campus, somewhere that’s so uniquely American that it effectively distances a non-American audience; well me, anyway. The subject matter of Christopher Shinn’s play should engage and impassion, but it left me rather cold.

It doesn’t revolve around the the title character, but around openly gay Gabe, moving between his somewhat complicated personal life and college life for the LGBT community. Gabe has recently started a relationship with Drew, who writes for the college rag. His best friend Tim, outgoing student president, is (apparently) straight. Tim and his girlfriend Jenny and Drew’s black gay colleague Nicky are involved in Gabe and Drew’s relationship in surprising and not always plausible ways. 

Teddy Ferrara and disabled gay Jay enter Gabe’s life as leader of the college LGBT society, the former wanting someone to talk to and the latter wanting a relationship. As the college president hosts the first meeting of a group set up in response to the college’s diversity committee, Drew’s paper publishes speculation that a recent suicide victim was gay, suggesting gay campus life might be difficult. Teddy Ferrara discovers his room-mate is streaming his casual sex with partners picked up on the internet and his suicide soon follows.

Even though the setting is uniquely American, Shinn’s play, like Neil LaBute’s, are cynically un-American and his characters manipulative and self-centred, even the victims. There’s a lot of story, the issues are relevant and important, but its all very slow and unengaging I’m afraid. I didn’t really care about anyone, which makes it hard to care about the issues. It left me cold.

There are some fine performances, particularly from Mathew Marsh as the clumsy college president and would-be senator, Ryan McPartland in the title role and Pamela Nomvete as lecturer Emma. The accents are uniformly excellent. Hildegard Bechtler’s design is as cold and clinical as the play and Dominic Cooke’s staging lacks pace.

I think it would have worked a lot better if it had been relocated to the UK and shortened by twenty minutes. As it is, a disappointment for me.

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I very much admire this initiative. Theatre Uncut commissions short political plays by largely established writers, makes them available for anyone to produce anywhere in the world and stages them itself with professional actors who only get a day’s rehearsal time.

The evening is made up of six plays, so you’d expect it to be a touch uneven. The best is Mark Thomas’ Church Forced to Close After Font Used as Wash Basin by Migrants, a spot-on vicious swipe at an odious newspaper baron not unlike some of the real ones. The most famous playwright is Neil LaBute, but I found his Pick One, about three American power brokers discussing large-scale ethnic cleansing, hard to swallow. As often with LaBute, he tries too hard to shock and in doing so realism goes out of the window and impact is lost.

Rachel Chavin’s Recipe gets a different theatre group each night; Dumbshow put together their highly inventive production of it in just four hours, but their staging was outstanding. Clara Brennan’s The Wing featured a fine performance from David Hounslow as an English Defence League bigot clashing with his liberal daughter; he was also chilling in LaBute’s play. James Hillier also shone as Mark Thomas’ press baron and one of LaBute’s power brokers.

It’s great to see theatre that’s edgy and experimental, more concerned with confronting current issues than providing slick entertainment and directors Emma Callander & Hannah Price are to be congratulated. Support it.

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Well, persisting with playwright Neil LaBute has paid off at last. I’ve seen a handful of his plays before now, but never really found them particularly satisfying; too cynical for my taste. Until now, the worst of them was Mercy Seat and the best The Shape of Things & Fat Pig and this play continues his reflections on our obsession with appearance that the latter two started, but for me it’s on another level altogether….and how refreshing to have a play with ‘blue collar’ characters and a warehouse setting!

The play starts with a brilliantly staged row over something Greg is alleged to have said about his partner Steph, relayed by her friend Carly. Carly is pregnant (a late change to accommodate Billie Piper’s actual pregnancy!) by Greg’s work colleague and friend Kent. The subsequent unfolding of these relationships is absolutely fascinating and completely captivating. There is extraordinary depth to the characterisation, an authenticity to the story and brilliantly realistic dialogue. I haven’t felt so involved in a story for some time.

I’m often in awe of an actor’s talent and here I’m in awe of all four of them. You really feel for Tom Burke’s Greg, caught up in his girlfriend’s insecurities and his friend’s infidelities. Bille Piper is terrific as Carly, starting as the source of Greg & Steph’s conflict and ending as a victim. Kieran Bew has the difficult task of playing the deeply unsympathetic Kent, so the fact you want to get on stage and punch him is a tribute to how well he does. Steph’s emotional rollercoaster is beautifully played by Sian Brooke.

Soutra Gilmour’s settings in and around a container convey the workplace at the heart of the play but allow scenes to move to three other locations speedily, with the scene changes themselves very watchable. Michael Attenborough’s fine attention to detail serves the play very well in a sensitive production without a wasted moment.

So the Almeida ends 2011 as it began it – with a fine new play that will join Becky Shaw in the list of the very best new plays of the year. A veritable sky full of gold stars.

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Neil LaBute is one of the few modern writers I’ve yet to really get; he always seems too cynical, even for a cynic like me! I’ve tried hard with four of his plays, but fail to see what many others seems to see. Is he my modern Chekov or Pinter?

I never saw the first outing of this play 10 years ago and haven’t seen the film, so I come to this ‘site specific’ revival in an art gallery cold. Though the first scene takes place in an art gallery, I’m not sure that’s enough reason for staging it in one. It does achieve real intimacy, but I’m not convinced you couldn’t achieve that in a small studio theatre without a sore bum or aching back and legs.

Despite this, it’s the first LaBute play I’ve found fully satisfying. It’s difficult to describe without spoiling it for anyone who might like to go – and you should. An unlikely couple meet in an art gallery and a whirlwind romance develops. This later intertwines with another couple – the man’s best friend and his ex, now the best friend’s fiancée. There’s a terrific twist (which I never saw coming) that takes us to a deeper and fascinating discussion. I found it intriguing and compelling. Maybe I’ve at last got LaBute?

Young company Rhapsody of Words has done an excellent job staging it at The Gallery Soho – director Tom Attenborough (yes, the latest in the dynasty) and set, lighting, sound and video design team of Francesca Reidy, Joshua Carr, Victoria Wilkinson and Camilla Cadier. The use of video was excellent, the soundtrack highly effective and the simple white space was beautifully lit. Performance wise, I was particularly impressed by Andrew Nolan, who has a difficult journey as Adam, having to make a believable transformation that’s crucial to the success of the play. He was well supported by Lucy Marks (who came into her own at the denouement), Edward Rowett and Katy Marks.

The performance I attended was only the second preview, but it was in good shape and I suspect it will grow through the run. I’m looking forward to seeing much more from this company, though maybe in a seat next time?.

 

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