Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Trafalgar Studio Two’

Trafalgar Studio II continues to give fringe work a second outing, this time with Theatre 503’s 2013 hit, an excellent debut play by Chris Urch on the unlikely subject of six miners trapped down a mine as Thatcher triumphs for the first time as Tory leader. It’s extraordinary how many laughs you can get from such a situation without in any way detracting from the tragedy; indeed, probably heightening it.

Six miners are trapped after a rock fall. They have to decide to wait or dig. Deputy ‘Chopper’ takes the lead and insists on waiting in the first instance, switching strategy to digging if it becomes too long. The length of the wait stretches plausibility, but it provides the opportunity to explore the men’s lives, motivations and relationships and the characterisations are superb. Old lag Bomber with the driest of humour and naive young Mostyn, mummies boy and the most unlikeliest of miners on his first shift. Brothers Chewy & Curly, as dissimilar as brothers get, bickering but underneath loving. Thoughtful and calm Polish war hero Hovis and Chopper, the deputy in charge – well, initially. At first they cope through loyalty and humorous banter, but as the days without rescue mount up, everything breaks down. It gets ever more claustrophobic and intolerable, as the banter is replaced by argument and division.

The dialogue sparkles with realism and the 1979 setting anchors the piece in recent social history, without trying to score political points. Signe Beckmann’s brilliant set provides an appropriately claustrophobic, grubby environment – they really are on top of one another and the audience there with them. Paul Robinson’s direction squeezes every ounce of tragedy and comedy without being sentimental or disrespectful of the situation. In a fine set of performances, veteran Clive Merrison is superb as Bomber (though we do miss him in the second half) and Kyle Rees is hugely impressive as Curly.

Great to see a debut play in the West End, a rarity indeed. It ends today, so you’d better get your skates on!

Read Full Post »

You have to hand it to Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty; each of their musicals takes you somewhere completely different. This one sees us in the Deep South in the mid-19th century, before the abolition of slavery. Based on Sherley Anne Williams novel, the central characters of Dessa Rose, a young slave, and Ruth, a Southern belle, tell their story in flashback from a prologue and epilogue in the 1920’s, by which time things have of course changed. It’s a dramatically rich story with an excellent score and, in this production, a stunning ensemble.

Dessa Rose is a young slave on the Steele plantation and Ruth, the same age, is the daughter of the wealthy Carson’s who has been brought up by their slave Mammy. Dessa Is feisty and rebellious and in defending herself against unacceptable treatment finds herself in prison at 16, pregnant and the subject of writer Adam Nehemiah’s research. Ruth marries farmer Bertie who all but abandon’s her, leaving her lonely on the farm. Dessa escapes from prison and becomes the de facto leader of a group of slaves determined to head to the more enlightened west to escape slavery. They find an unlikely refuge with Ruth, who befriends them and aids them in their venture.

It’s a very dense story, in truth a bit too dense – there’s a hell of a lot going on – but it does make for a dramatically rich narrative. The score is up there with their best show, Ragtime, with evocative melodic music and lyrics which drive the story. From the rousing opening chorus of We Are Descended (which also closes the show) it packs in a whole load of good songs and choruses and here they are played and sung beautifully. In a surprising move, Dean Austin’s excellent band is dispersed, with keyboards and cello on stage and winds and violin in the corners of the auditorium. It works aurally, even if you are directly in front of a saxophone!, though it does restrict the already small playing space.

Director Andrew Keates has his work cut out staging it on such a small stage (well, floor) but with much ingenuity he pulls it off. When all 12 are on stage, with the two musicians, the space between audience and actors disappears completely. I think it is crying out for a bigger theatre, though not one so big as to lose the intimacy we get here. They didn’t appear to be using the visible head mic’s so the vocals have a lovely purity to them, though I did lose a few words.

The cast is uniformly excellent (casting by Benjamin Newsome again), all equally good as actors and singers. Both Cynthia Erivo and Cassidy Janson shine in the lead roles. Erivo conveys Dessa’s defiance with great passion and soaring vocals. Janson has more of a journey to make and I loved the way her character aged and her personality changed. She invested a lot of emotion in her performance, also vocally strong, and with an authentic accent. There isn’t a fault in the rest of this stunning cast.

This is my 7th Ahrens & Flaherty show and it’s amongst their best. I’d love to see it in a bigger space, but this European premiere is a huge success – and it’s in the West End at fringe prices! Time to book to go again…..

Read Full Post »

Playwrights normally choose their own subjects, but on this occasion Jack Thorne was asked by new writing theatre company DryWrite to produce something that explored privacy and intimacy, with a man and a woman, set in their shared domestic bathroom. Well, you can’t say he didn’t deliver!

Mydidae is apparently a family of large flower-loving flies. I only scraped a biology ‘O’ level (remember those?), so I had to go to Wikipedia to find that out. I’m still not sure why it’s called that, but perhaps it’s a reference to the audience. You really do feel like a fly on the wall as you sit in the tiny Trafalgar Studio Two space looking into an uber-realistic bathroom without walls, watching David & Marian clean their teeth, shave, pee and bath!

It all starts out very RomCom and not at all uncomfortable to watch. They appear to be a perfectly normal happy couple doing normal everyday things, both together and alone. In addition to the aforementioned acts you expect in a bathroom, they scratch in places and in a way people normally scratch and make customary overuse of the mirror. David talks to a work colleague on the phone about that day’s sales pitch and Marian calls her mum and plans a visit. Yet you know there has been some tragedy in their recent past and there’s an undercurrent of walking on eggshells.

The play takes an extraordinary turn when they take a bath together, and this was the point where, for me, realism turned into implausibility. I didn’t really buy the motivation behind the shocking turn of events and in particular the reaction to them, so as they lost the plot, so did I. The concept is original and the writing is good. Vicky Jones’ staging and Amy Jane Cook’s design are both highly effective. Keir Charles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge are exceptional and their relationship seems ever so real.

Though I’m glad I saw it, my failure to believe in the turn of events ultimately undermined my satisfaction with the play. Great that it’s getting a showcase in the West End, though, and at accessible prices too.

Read Full Post »