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Posts Tagged ‘Pamona’

It’s hard to write about something you find more than a bit baffling, but I’ll try. Mind you, it isn’t the first mind-blowing Alistair McDowell play. First, there was Pamona, which opened Paul Miller’s tenure as AD of the Orange Tree in 2014 with a bang, then X here at the Royal Court in 2016. This latest one is a cocktail of sci-fi, folk myth and mystery that spans 501,998 years!

It starts in the mid 18th Century when a wealthy spiritualist adopts / abducts a young girl from what appears to be an asylum to be some sort of assistant, but she has powers of her own and she takes us back to the 15th Century where we encounter a mute knight at the court of King Henry VI, then forward to the second world war, 1979 and twice into the 1990’s. The journey back to 500,000 BC and forward to the future connect us to the fate of the planet, a familiar subject for McDowell.

Along the way, we experience horror, violence, intrigue and more surprisingly humour and you are rarely distracted, possibly because you’re trying to keep up. The performances are excellent, with Ria Zmitrowicz as our mysterious guide and Tadhg Murphy as the silently charismatic knight (who at times seems to have walked onto the stage from the set of Monty Python’s Holy Grail!). Rakie Ayola and Fisayo Akinade are great in multiple roles.

The set at first seems like some hidden corner of the Barbican complex, but takes on a life of it’s own with its continuous changes of configuration, with projections and lights, accompanied by an atmospheric soundtrack. It’s hard to fault the craftsmanship at play in staging it, but the narrative is another matter – obtuse and baffling. Still, it’s an improvement on Pamona and X.

Despite my confusion, unlike other plays in recent years it does deserve its place on the main stage. I consider myself to be very open to creativity and invention, but maybe I’m becoming more conservative, because when it comes to plays I often yearn for story, plot and characters that I can understand or relate to, something you don’t get here. On this occasion, I find myself ending up admiring the experiment and wishing it had succeeded.

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Playwright Lucy Prebble has given us some excellent plays, most notably ENRON, her second, but isn’t very prolific – she’s only written three plays in the 16 years since this debut, but then again she’s also successful in TV, notably with HBO’s current hit Succession. Her fourth play, A Very Expensive Poison, premiered just four months ago and her third, The Effect, will be revived at the Boulevard Theatre in March, so we’re having a bit of a Prebble Fest. I missed this one first time round, so I was delighted the Orange Tree have revived it.

The play revolves around 17-year-old Dani who lives with her somewhat neurotic mother. Dani’s father works away and plays away too, something they are both fully aware of. She suffers with an eating disorder and has recently returned from a residential clinic which she resents being forced to go to. She frequents internet chat rooms, where she meets two very different people – lonely 22-year-old Lewis, seeking a relationship, and thirty-something paedophile Tim, looking for boys. She meets up with Lewis, and they strike up some sort of relationship. By posing as an 11-year-old boy, she also meets up with Tim and they strike up an even odder relationship, where she becomes a friend and confidante. The two worlds collide when Lewis visits Tim and then her home, and her relationship with her mother is exorcised.

These very sensitive issues are handled really well, in the writing, staging and performances. All of the characters are treated sympathetically, even Tim, delicately played by John Hollingworth. Ali Barouti navigates Lewis’ journey from desperation to obsession beautifully. Alexandra Gilbreath handles the complexity of mother Jan with great skill. Jessica Rhodes’ performance as the very mercurial Dani, onstage virtually throughout, is superb, even more impressive when you realise it’s her professional debut.

Oscar Toeman’s excellent revival benefits from the intimacy of this theatre, but the sunken playing area brings sightline issues, as it did with Pamona at the same venue. This was my only gripe with what was otherwise a thoroughly satisfying evening of theatre.

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