Tuesday, 26 February 2013

That Face by Polly Stenham, produced by TG, Stage@Leeds. Reviewed 16th Feb 2013.

‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They don’t mean to, but they do.’
-This Be the verse,
Phillip Larkin.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they h
And add some extra,Polly Stenham’s semi-autobiography play That Face is a turbulent take on the kitchen sink drama genre. The play is a relative newborn in comparison with most of TG’s previous work, as it only premiered at the Royal Court in 2007. Contemporary and unforgivingly taut, That Face is emotionally demanding, requiring unwavering attention, both from the cast and audience.  First time director George Howard speaks of his passion for That Face in his director’s note, encountering the play in typically unconventional circumstances; ‘sitting in complete solitude in a dingy kitchen pre-Hifi.’ This trendy and slightly harrowing context is hugely fitting when considering the play, and is possibly the perfect environment in which to obtain your first dose of Polly Stenham.
 The cast was compact and well chosen; each character a damaged piece of matter caught in the orbit of the mentally ill and manipulative mother character, Martha, played by Lucie Turner. I was informed after seeing the production that Turner only learnt the part a week ago due to the original actress sadly having to drop out of the play. This is truly impressive work, not only did she not falter once, Turner’s delivery conjured up an atmosphere of tension and stale desperation that grew throughout the performance. Despite there being a slight glut of the old clich├ęd ‘crazy lady’ gesticulation and eye rolling at the beginning, I think this can afford to be overlooked.
 The world of mainstream theatre criticism would refer to leading lad Iggy Jeffery, (and without a doubt will,) as ‘one to watch.’ Taking on the role of Henry, Martha’s rock, (and thus the burnt out planet closest to the dying star,) Jeffery commanded the stage in way that was beautiful and painful to watch. Desperately trying to cling to his sanity in the midst of an impending catastrophe, Jeffery surrendered himself to the role. The kind of actor that reacts to every subtle change that takes place and transmits a strange force that allows you to forget you are in a theatre, if Iggy Jeffery does not pursue professional acting as a career, I will never forgive him.
Cavorting around the stage as the poisonous and beautiful Izzy, Claire O’Shea becomes the girl we all love to hate. An infinitely stronger, younger and possibly more dangerous version of the Martha character, Izzy pushes her way into the damaged family by seducing Henry and exploiting the daughter Mia’s (Verity Blyth) already warped and aggressive conception of morality. O’Shea uses her beauty and radiance to deceive, and this deception extended successfully to the audience, leaving most people in the conundrum that Henry finds himself in, fully aware that Izzy is very bad news, but unable to resist her.
 The father character of Hugh was meticulously well observed and faultlessly portrayed by Jake Williams. Casting my mind’s eye across the actors I know at university, I can’t think of many other  boys who could convincing portray a much older, dysfunctional father figure as convincingly as Williams does. The kind of father that sees Am Ex as a convenient substitute for love and affection, the tense and tragically hilarious scene between Hugh and Mia was a highlight of the play for me. Parental relationships are often difficult to portray given than most of us eighteen to twenty somethings have simply not got the necessary emotional memory to recreate the relationship between a father and daughter, however Blyth’s stroppiness and William’s bullshit combined to hit the bleakness of the situation home to us.
 One slight criticism I do have is the lack of chemistry between Hugh and Martha. Their relationship felt massively out of place, it was as if we needed more emotional evidence of their back-story, for example, why had a man as self consumed and materialistic become involved with someone like Martha, and how had they managed to stay together  long enough to produce two children? This is not so much a criticism of the acting as of the script, but I still feel that more could be done to show Martha’s bitterness towards Hugh, as occasionally Turner did not hit the mark of spurned wife, and came across as disinterested and scoffing. There needed to be much more awkwardness, sexual tension and sadness of the kind that, from my experience is often tangible in separated couples.
 All things considered, Howard and Lewis’ production of That Face was enviably professional, fashionably dysfunctional and distressingly well acted. In my opinion That Face is the only production I have seen this year that, in terms of acting, stands eye to eye with Chris Bennell and LianaTelvi’s Streetcar Named Desire that was produced through TG last year.  


Wednesday, 13 February 2013

New poem: Iambic pent-up.

My aching limbs betray me to myself,

Accustomed to this old bewilderment,

I have no concept of your interest,

And gaze toward an unknown figament.

This cycle is sealed by omniscience

Of time and fate and things that might exist,

Leave me alone I wish to sit this out,

This life, these games, immutable disgrace.

I belong to myself and I alone,

Can satisfy my needs and hates and in

Each sluggish hour I spend in this disguise

I lose a star of my integrity.




Sunday, 2 December 2012

This Man to His Wife by TG, Reviewed December 1st 2012.

Alec Clegg Studio, Stage@Leeds.

Saturday 1st December 2012.

This Man to His Wife; Leeds University Theatre Group (TG)

 Written and directed by Joe Kerridge, Produced by Isla Jackson-Ritchie and Yeri Al-Jaf.

Reviewed by Holly Boyden- first year English Literature and Theatre student.


As December has crept up on us, so has the final TG production of 2012. This Man to His Wife is a psychologically vexing piece of new writing from Joe Kerridge, and as usual, was something I auditioned for - you may have noticed a pattern emerging.

When reading a scene from This Man to His Wife, I found it profoundly difficult and the writing deliberately evasive. However, this evening’s performance cracked open my dense little skull and allowed the power of what Kerridge has created to trickle in. This Man to His Wife is not your bog standard play; it is a highly stylistic and disturbing performance piece that is brought to some form of wretched life by a group of very perceptive actors and theatre makers.

The space chosen was intimate and modern with no conventional seating arrangement. We, as the audience were encouraged to move around the outside space as and when we pleased, in order to gain new perspectives on the action. This was an inspired choice and I also think it served to show the world moving around the static and decomposing minds of the characters, something which made them seem more like participants in an experiment than performers. The production was by no means an immediate success, it took a while to thaw, for the actors to sink into their disconcerting roles and for the audience to realise that this would not be a conventional piece of kitchen sink drama. The gigantic pauses, the awkwardness and the stiltedness were delightfully agitating and made you want to scream and cry and vomit simultaneously because of the headache of taciturnity created. The play is an enigma; it seems to escape explicit meaning and definition, but I would say it has a postmodern air of the apocalyptic, a sentiment which it exudes without any whiff of pretentiousness. The elusiveness pulses through every vein of the play; the director and writer himself confesses that ‘I can tell you what happens...but after that I don’t know that much. It is up for grabs.’ This is what makes This Man to His Wife so astonishing, and I am fascinated as to how the cast made the volatile sense that they did of it without having seen it performed beforehand.

There is a Waiting for Godot-esque helplessness about the play, the characters are in a depressing limbo that they do not seem to be able to, or really want to escape from. Larry and Pam are in what appears to be a dysfunctional and dried up marriage that is being dragged into the realm of no return by Larry’s writer’s block and Pam’s indifference, and the presence of David, a friend or relation of some kind is just exacerbating the deathly tension. The rendering of each character was key, as the magic of the play lay in the fact that they did not relate to one another, they could not break through the fog of discontent that surrounds them. David, played by Dan Whitehouse, was phenomenal to the extent that you truly did not feel comfortable in looking at his face for too long. He emanated a hawkish cruelty and laconic self conviction in his demeanour that you only really see in the truly psychotic, or perhaps the folk who strike up conversation with you on the last bus home. Pam, played by Amy O’Loughlin was fantastically hollow and inexpressive with twitches of repression and psychosis coming through in tiny movements of her eyes and body. She really conveyed the disenchantment of a woman whose life is over before it has begun, a person with nothing to live for who either doesn’t realise this awful fact, or no longer cares. I liked the fact that accent was not really played with at all in the production, and although there are allusions to locations in the South East of England, the play could have been set anywhere, and this anonymity exacerbated the dreariness of the situation, as it could exist everywhere, or indeed, nowhere at all.

The ending is delicious in its dissatisfaction; Larry does not ‘have a breakthrough’ with his work, Pam appears to have descended into prostitution to amuse herself and David simply disappears wordlessly and stealthily, like a phantom. The whole production reminded me of the cryptic sixth episode of Skins Series Two, way back in 2008, where Tony (theoretically) goes on a university open day and we are never quite sure if the convoluted series of events that take place are real, or a figment of Tony’s disturbed identity and subconscious. A character that really hit this feeling home for me was Freya Costello’s portrayal of Jill; her frightening detachment and over enunciation was uncannily like the unhinged and possibly imaginary postgraduate student Polly. As someone on an internet forum has said of the Skins’ episode; ‘it’s all a bit like Fight Club.’

After an interval-less evening of feeling very unsettled, and equally very impressed, I really hope that the team take the production further, such as to the National Student Drama Festival, because I think it shows innovation and skill that breaks the thickening crust on student produced drama. This Man to the rest of the world could be deliriously good stuff Kerridge; do it.