Posts Tagged ‘Tessa Peake-Jones’

In just three years, playwright Barney Norris has established himself as a distinctive new voice. His three plays share a warmth and empathy that’s a refreshing contrast to the cynicism and anger of much new writing. He’s the master of ordinariness, and that’s a compliment. His characters are people you know or have met. From dementia to changes in rural life and now to loneliness, he documents the lives of real people in real situations. This couldn’t be more different from the previous night’s play, the uber-cool and uber-cold The Treatment.

Carol lives alone. Her husband is gone and her daughter has gone away. She works in the Electoral Registration Office. She finds Eddie, someone from the past, sleeping rough and offers him a home. She can’t hide her delight in having someone in the house. They reminisce and we learn Eddie has been abroad for eighteen years, before which they were friends, though the full nature of the relationship is unclear. Eddie is a bit of a drifter, a lost soul, with all of his worldly belongings in a few plastic carrier bags. Despite the fact she has a daughter, home and job, Carol is a lost soul too. The arrangement suits them both, but it doesn’t last.

Norris’ writing has a gentle humour, his characters are well drawn and Alice Hamilton brings the same sensitive direction as she did with his previous two plays. Tessa Peace-Jones and Andrew French perform delicately, like they are dancing around one another, with the unsaid communicating almost as much as their speech. I didn’t think it had the depth of the other two plays, partly because it’s only 70 minutes long and partly because it’s a two-hander, but it’s still well worth catching. His plays work particularly well on a small scale in intimate spaces, and it has already been announced that he will have a play in the opening season of Nick Hytner’s new Bridge Theatre – it will be interesting to see something on a much bigger scale.

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Turkey alert!

This play is billed as ‘A slinky, sexy new comedy to make you purr…’. Well, there weren’t many laughs, I didn’t find it the slightest bit sexy and purring was the last thing on my mind when I left the Arts Theatre. What was actually on my mind was ‘Give me a drink. Quick!’.

To say much about the story would be to spoil it for anyone already committed to or mad enough to go. Suffice to say we’re in LA with a therapist and her client(s) at couples therapy. The lack of laughter was rather embarrassing, such that when a funny line turned up you were inclined to over-compensate with a fit of hysterics. There’s a certain cleverness to Frank Strausser’s idea and the story, but it’s just poorly written. When the clumsiness of the staging engages you more than the play, you know you’re at a turkey.

Mark Walters’ set manages to be over-complicated and tacky at the same time (well, he has done a lot of pantos); the scene changes take forever and slow the play down almost as much as the writing does. Even though it was a preview, it wasn’t an early one, yet the show is a bit of a shambles technically. From side stalls seats, you can see things you’re not meant to see (offstage actors, stage hands, bits of other scene sets…). The wrong piece flies in between scenes and then out after the scene has started. A skylight tilts during performance because they forgot to do it / didn’t have time to do it before the scene started (the audience gasped as they thought it was about to fall on the actress). An actress’ exit after a scene change is blocked and we have to watch her navigate a new route. Towards the end there is an odd few minutes when Tessa Peake-Jones is walking around aimlessly. This could be bad staging (director Glen Walford), but my theory is that a sound cue was missed (a phone call) and she was improvising; in which case can we have an Olivier award for Best Cover-Up please?

I felt so sorry for the four good actors – Gray O’Brien, Josefina Gabrielle, Daniel Weyman and the aforementioned Tessa Peake-Jones. At the curtain call, their expressions said ‘thank god that’s over’ coupled with ‘oh my god, we’ve got to do this again in 22.5 hours and 7 times a week for 7 weeks’ (well, maybe not…). They have only one more performance to sort out the technical stuff before the critical rottweilers come in, but I can’t see how they will sort out what is frankly a bad play that would have me wincing at the Edinburgh fringe, let alone in the West End. Not even people off the telly can save this.

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