Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Neil Stuke’

Playwright Joe Penhall’s last work for the stage was the book for the Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon, much of which revolved around the exploitation of a bunch of sixties teens by a load of music biz men (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/sunny-afternoon). This is a contemporary tale of similar exploitation, of an artist by a producer. The artist is young and female, which adds another layer, and a timeliness.

Record producer Bernard takes on young Irish singer-songwriter Cat, produces her album and plays in the band that tours to promote it. He claims credit for much more than production and when it wins an award, claims recognition too. Their musical collaboration works well, but the power games result in them talking through lawyers and confiding in psychotherapists, amidst much debate about the importance of the truth of the music.

The structural idea of the lawyers and therapists is a good one, but too much is told through conversations between just two parties – the musical protagonists, artist and their lawyer, therapist and their client and lawyer to lawyer. This damages the dramatic narrative if not the debate, making it often too static. However, the discussion is wide-ranging, thorough and intelligent and its bang up-to-date, so I admired and enjoyed it nonetheless.

I’m not sure the thrust staging, presumably intended to bring an intimacy, worked that well; in truth, the play needs a smaller theatre like the Donmar or the Dorfman. Ben Chaplin’s performance as Bernard is reason enough to go, though; he’s simply brilliant as the manipulative, narcissistic, archetypal middle-aged pop-rock figure. Seana Kerslake plays Cat with a totally believable vulnerability and naivety. The therapist roles are a bit underwritten, both played as cool and detached, as they often are in reality, by Jemma Redgrave and Pip Carter; the lawyers are more fiery and confrontational, as lawyers are, played well by Neil Stuke and Kurt Egyiawan.

Yet again the indifferent critical reception lowered my expectations, which were exceeded on the day. Go and make your own mind up.

Read Full Post »

Mike Bartlett’s play about corporate bullying packs quite a punch given that it runs under an hour, perhaps proving less can be more. Verbose playwrights take note.

We’re looking down into a space not unlike a boxing ring, the audience on four sides on six or seven levels including ‘ringside’ standing. There’s just a water cooler in the space with Thomas, Isobel and Tony. They are on edge, waiting for the boss to come. He’s going to choose who stays and who goes. The process isn’t entirely clear (well, not to Thomas anyway). One of them won’t survive. Isobel and team leader Tony play psychological games on Thomas. Tony has withheld information from him, so he’s unprepared. The taunts get personal and more vicious until Carter arrives to confirm the cull.

The tension starts before the play begins, with loud rock music, a bit like the build up to a boxing match. It gets ever more taut and cruel as it progresses and the bullying continues, pointlessly, after the deed is done. There’s a coup d’theatre towards the end which ratchets it up one final notch and we’re left with a tragic image of defeat. It would be funny if it wasn’t so real – in my experience of modern corporate life, this isn’t the slightest bit implausible – but there are laughs, some uncomfortable, some relieving tension. As I was thinking ‘is this what we’ve become?’ I looked around the audience and was a bit horrified by the lack of compassion on others’ faces. As I walked through the bar at the end, it appeared to be full of people who could have been characters in the play.

It’s brilliantly staged by Clare Lizzimore within another of Soutra Gilmour’s extraordinary ‘environments’. Adam James and Eleanor Matsuura are so believable as the bullies I wanted to enter the ring and come to Thomas’ aid. Sam Troughton is outstanding in his emotional roller-coaster ride as Thomas and Neil Stuke is cool and unemotional as Carter.

The play affected me more than I thought it would or could. I wasn’t laughing as much as others because it was making me angry, sad and disillusioned. It’s essential theatre though, putting the ugliness of the corporate rat race on view. If only the audience reaction was more compassionate.

 

Read Full Post »