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Posts Tagged ‘Royal Court Upstairs’

Do schools like this really exist in the US? Somehow, it’s difficult to identify with the Charles R Drew school – an American all-black public school. If you replaced Pharus, Bobby, Junior, Anthony & David with  Tarquin, Justin, Oliver, Henry & Julian, you could be at a British public school (though I confess I do not have personal experience). It all feels a bit otherworldly and incongruous.

We only have five boys in Ultz’ extraordinary wood-paneled school, so we have to use our imagination (helped by a configuration which involves the audience, with the boys seated amongst us on occasion). In the attic space of the Royal Court Upstairs, he’s also fitted in a bedroom and changing room and the play really does happen all around you.

School life involves sport, a famous choir, some bullying, politics…..just like any old school really. Pharus leads the choir; he’s effeminate and gay and his relationships with his fellow pupils are complicated, particularly with the headmaster’s nephew with whom he has a power struggle. An old master is brought back to teach creative thinking, though what this contributes I’m not sure. In fact, I’m not really sure what playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney is trying to say at all. It’s a slice-of-life play that doesn’t really go anywhere and takes a long time not to do so.

Having said that, Dominic Cooke’s production is terrific, largely due to five superb performances from the boys – Dominic Smith, Eric Kofi Abrefa, Kwayedza Kureya, Khali Best & Aron Julius – two of them 2012 drama school graduates (one making his professional debut) and one still studying A-levels! The two adults, Gary McDonald & David Burke, don’t get a look in. In addition to acting, they sing as well as any young choristers I’ve ever heard. The use of music is indeed one of the play’s strengths.

Despite the fact that it didn’t seem to go anywhere, I was engaged for the duration, impressed by the creativity and staging and in awe of the talent.

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I suffer from Wanderlust, so I was expecting a play that examined this very condition. Of course, it’s a play on words which is about lust and how and why people wander. I don’t suffer from that.

At its centre there’s a middle-aged middle-class couple struggling to maintain a healthy sex life. One flirts with and fantasises about an old flame and the other more than flirts with a work colleague. Set against this we have their teenage son’s sexual awakening and experimentation, which proves less trite than you might think. Cue stuff about love versus sex, funny stuff, clumsy stuff, embarrassing stuff but no profound stuff. It’s the charming teenage story which proves to be the heart of the play, though at 80 minutes, a playlet might be more apt description.

There was nothing ground-breaking about the staging or the design and the performances were OK – except the teenagers, James Musgrave and Isabella Laughland, who seemed to find more depth in their characters than the rest and raised the bar acting-wise.

A perfectly acceptable evening, but not one I’ll be talking about next month let alone next year, I’m afraid – and nowhere near as good as playwright Nick Payne’s earlier play ‘If there is, I haven’t found it yet’ at the Bush last year.

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