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Posts Tagged ‘Prasanna Puwanarajah’

Rodney Ackland is a bit of a lost playwright; I’ve only known three of his twelve original plays and nine adaptations, including this one, produced in more than thirty-five years of London theatre-going. It was first staged in 1952 as The Pink Room, but it must have been in a very sanitised form, given the existence of theatre censorship at the time. It was very badly received and Ackland became dejected and only wrote two more plays, yet he lived for another forty years. Post-war London just didn’t have the stomach for his slice of bohemian Soho life. He returned to it thirty-six years later when this new, racier version was produced at the Orange Tree, on BBC TV and here at the Lyttelton, the latter two with Judi Dench in the lead.

It’s set in members club La Vie en Rose over a month in the summer after the end of the war in Europe, during the general election campaign where Labour ousted Churchill. It revolves around club proprietor Christine Foskett and her best customer, writer Hugh, who’s relationship with his partner Nigel and his career are both rocky, oblivious to his mum and her friend who he bizarrely invites to the club. Other members include Austrian black marketeer Siegfried and his girlfriend Elizabeth, film producer Maurice and his secretary Cyril, batty Julia and even battier Madge, a soapbox crusader, posh Lettice ‘the treacle queen’ and wild-man artist Michael, not forgetting assistant Doris and the cook. Into this melange, American GI’s Butch and Sam arrive to satisfy Christine and steal Elizabeth.

It’s character-driven rather than story-driven; the Labour Party offices visible next door link it to what’s happening outside the club. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine. Designer Lizzie Clachan turns the Lyttelton into a vast space, with stairs down to the kitchen and two floors up to the restaurant and beyond. I wasn’t convinced by the idea of prostitute Fifi almost continually walking around the space, and sometimes there’s so much going on, and so much background talk and music, that you’re struggling to focus on the essence of a scene, but that still didn’t detract from what was for me an enthralling, immersive experience which has lost 40 minutes, including two-thirds of the second interval, since the first preview and I suspect is better for it.

You’d be hard pressed to find so many fine performances on one stage in one night. Kate Fleetwood is superb as gin-soaked vamp Christine, as is Charles Edwards as highly-strung homosexual Hugh. Surrounding them are terrific turns from Jonathan Slinger as manipulative Maurice (hot-footing it over from The Old Vic), Patricia England as delightfully batty Julia, Joanna David as Hugh’s loyal but naive mum, Lloyd Hutchinson as larger-than-life artist Michael, Liza Sadovy as aloof Lettice, Esh Alladi as camp Cyril, Eileen Walsh as mad Madge and Prasanna Puwanarajah as Hugh’s on-off partner Nigel. There are twenty-four named parts and twenty-eight actors! Joe Hill-Gibbins marshals them very well.

The comments on exit and the walkers at the intervals proved it’s a marmite show, but those still there at the end cheered. Great to see it again after 23 years. More Ackland please!

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Chalk and cheese. The writing of this second pairing of new plays at the National’s ‘pop-up’ theatre is nowhere near as good as the first, I’m afraid. It’s hard to see how they went through the same editorial process as they feel like the writers needed help turning interesting ideas into plays.

Given that I don’t really like monologues and can’t stand cricket, Nightwatchman was always going to be a struggle. Abirami is a British Sri Lanka female cricketer about to represent England in a test match at Lords and her monologue takes place at an indoor practice crease the day before. Prasanna Puwanarajah’s play explores the Sri Lankan Tamil situation and in particular the attitudes of British Sri Lankan’s. Much of her monologue is directly spoken to her deceased father. The problem with it is that it is more of a ramble than a narrative and occasionally becomes a rant. It desperately need some structure and editing. Actress Stephanie Street works wonders with the material she’s got to work with and the cricketing effects are excellent.

Tom Basman’s There Is A War is an absurdist surreal fantasy during a war between the blues and the greys. New doctor Anne is trying to make her way to her post in a military hospital. Along the way she meets a host of peripheral participants including a dance therapist, clown, chaplain and entertainer as well as some soldiers. Basden’s point seems to be the pointlessness of war with participants not even knowing what they are fighting for and why. When she arrives, she finds that the hospital itself is now a war zone where the orange are fighting the reds. This is a mass of ideas downloaded without much attempt to create an effective narrative. It’s sometimes intriguing, sometimes funny but often irritating. There’s nothing wrong with the staging or the performances, it’s just a work that isn’t ready and therefore rather a waste of c.20 performers and the NT technical resources.

It’s almost as if the NT wanted to show us a pair of stage ready plays and a pair that are work-in-progress, because that’s how different they seem to me. A great shame DF 2 didn’t live up to the promise of DF 1.

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