Tag Archives: Sinead Matthews

“Loot” at the Park Theatre

Don’t simply label this as a farce: Joe Orton’s 1964 masterpiece has a superb revival under the capable aegis of director Michael Fentiman, who has a careful eye on the play’s complexity. The crazed mix of Wildean epigrams, social satire, viscous comment and, OK, farce, are all present, correct and very funny.

Set on the day of a funeral, and just after a bank robbery, events descend into chaos orchestrated to show authority as absurd and human nature as venal. Ian Redford plays an innocent mourning husband and Christopher Fulford a bizarre police inspector who comes calling. They deliver the dense lines well, although both have the challenge of elevating their roles above stock characters – the play’s diabolical overtones arrive late, but there’s plenty of fun along the way.

An unholy trinity of characters is the play’s real focus. A genocidal nurse, fanatical in her Roman Catholicism and acquisition of husbands, makes a great role for Sinéad Matthews, who appreciates how broad the part needs to be played. San Frenchum and Calvin Demba produce great work as partners-in-crime Hal and his “baby” Dennis: the chemistry between them is electric and they manage to be at once clueless and callous. Bad enough to keep a priest dispensing penance for 24 hours, their stolen cash, destined for investment in a brothel, ends up stashed in Hal’s mother’s coffin. Which means treating the corpse – performed by Anah Ruddin, who deserves her applause when she rises from the casket to take a bow – with a still-shocking disdain.

Fentiman preserves Loot’s 1960s feel, conveying an anarchic streak that belies the sophistication of the text. Of course, Orton’s play can’t shock as it once did (our cynicism towards the establishment is set in stone, although a couple of comments about women and Pakistani girls did draw intakes of breath), but the sense of confrontation is bracing. Both play and production are, appropriately, “perfectly scandalous”.

Until 24 September 2017

www.parktheatre.co.uk

Photo by Darren Bell

“The Glass Menagerie” at the Young Vic

Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production of Tennessee Williams’ ‘memory’ play, The Glass Menagerie, is one you won’t forget. Introduced as a play that gives “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion”, Hill-Gibbins and designer Jeremy Herbert develop Williams’ emphasis on the theatrical with crystal clarity.

With a curtain that goes down as well as up and musicians integrated into the action, the workings of the story are exposed to all, entrancing us with its telling.

Not that this illusion is really all that pleasant. Our narrator Tom relates the tale of his escape from home but never disguises the fact that he is abandoning his mother and sister. Leo Bill plays this unsympathetic character, who haunted from the start. It is a surprisingly physical portrayal with a palpable sense of anger and despair.

The urgency of Tom’s leaving is well established by Deborah Findlay and Sinead Matthews in the roles of his mother Amanda and sister Laura. The danger of their self-illusion is subtly conveyed and is all the more powerful for the way it creeps up on you.

Even in Williams’ day, the chivalry of the South was a thing of the past. Nowadays, Amanda’s delusions and Laura’s timidity can seem not just deluded but silly. Findlay does well to establish her character’s ideas without alienating the audience. This is a lesson Matthews has chosen to ignore. Some actresses play Laura with a stubbornness about her fantasy life that is missing here. But, in neglecting this, Matthews is all the more moving and as fragile as the glass animals she collects.

The play’s fourth character, Jim the gentleman caller, is “an emissary from the world of reality” and arrives through a door marked with a star. Kyle Soller gives an excellent performance, fitting Tom’s description of him perfectly and adding a sincerity that cannot fail to move. He becomes central to Hill-Gibbins’ sensitive direction of this masterpiece and in bringing emotion to the fore leaves us as haunted as the characters left abandoned in their fantasy world.

www.youngvic.org

Until 15 January 2011

Photo by Simon Annand

Written 22 November 2010 for The London Magazine

“Eigengrau” at the Bush Theatre

Penelope Skinner’s new play, Eigengrau, is set in a London with no sense of community. It’s a city we hope we don’t experience but we all know exists. A group of twenty year olds are all alone and searching for love and friendship. It could be depressing stuff but in this play it is very, very funny.

Feminist activist Cassie has a flat share that isn’t going well. She had to advertise on Gumtree and found Rose, a ditzy blonde who has never heard of sexual liberation. Rose’s ‘boyfriend’ Mark works in marketing and is instantly offensive to Cassie. His flatmate Tim has problems too – he is recently bereaved, overweight and works in a friend’s chicken store. (Writing for The London Magazine, I have to point out that what these people need is a reputable lettings agent.)

In the interaction between these characters Skinner deals with pretty much every taboo of polite conversation and gets great laughs out of them all. Never talk about religion? Rose is a believer and happy to proselytize. She has proof fairies exist, oh, and dwarves as well. Sex and death? The cynicism and romance of casual encounters and falling in love cross over hilariously. Meanwhile Tim mourning his grandmother becomes grotesquely hilarious as her ashes are used to great comic effect. There is politics as well: Mark is surprised to learn people still ‘do’ feminism, and of course there is talk of property, that very London obsession.

With this comic potential the show has plenty of laugh out loud moments but as you might predict with humour this dark, it sometimes crosses a line. Where this lies is personal and, partly, the point of such black comedy. A loose grip on reality is often endearing but as this becomes dangerous it is disturbing. The women in the play debasing and mutilating themselves are dealt with ironically, but also horrifically. A long scene of oral sex, where the lights are cleverly raised, makes watching fellow audience members frankly more entertaining than what is happening on stage.

Yet all the cast show great skill in treading the fine line between humour and bad taste. It is impossible to say who gets the most laughs – there are so many of them. Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Mark is revolting – as smooth as they come and too clever for his own good. It takes real talent to turn an audience off a character that quickly! John Cummins’ Tim is utterly charming. He is a sensitive soul who is lost but still sees further than most. The women have slightly meatier roles, allowing Sinead Matthews and Alison O’Donnell to shine – their disappointments in love are moving as well as hilarious. The cast are clearly confident in the hands of director Polly Findlay. This is all heady, heavy stuff and the bold traverse design from Hannah Clark makes for an intimate, yet potentially intimidating space.

The journey our intrepid Londoners take is one worth making with them. Eigengrau is the colour seen by the eye in perfect darkness, a kind of grey that the optic nerve generates. There is plenty of blindness in the play. As the characters grope around, it becomes clear they aren’t going to find happiness through money or causes but need to search within themselves. Politics or success won’t help them but maybe, through fantasy at least, they will be able to laugh along the way.

Until 10 April 2010

www.bushtheatre.co.uk

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 16 March 2010 for The London Magazine