Against by Christopher Shinn, Almeida Theatre, 26 August 2017

Unfortunately, this one didn’t really do the business for us.

I said to Janie at the interval, “if this play manages to pull together all of its big and disparate themes in the second half, we’re in for one cracker of a second half.” I didn’t think it would. It didn’t.

Here is a link to the Almeida resource on the play/production.

Strangely, I don’t think we’d ever seen a Christopher Shinn play before. I say strangely, because he has had so many of his works performed at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, which we frequent a lot. Perhaps the subject matter has never appealed to us before.

This sounded interesting from the Almeida blurb and indeed it was interesting subject matter. Too much of it; violence in society, sexual politics, religion, workers’ increasing sense of powerlessness…

…but the performances were all very good. They seemed, to us, wasted on this play.

Tellingly, the Almeida resource does not link to reviews, so here are a few links:

To help rescue our evening, we ran into Jilly Black sitting, with a friend, a few rows behind us. We chatted with them after the show; indeed Janie dropped them at Baker Street giving us quite a bit of very pleasant post show chat time.

It is not very often that we bemoan the extra few minutes journey time to the Almeida; normally that place is well worth the extra few minutes each way, but this piece left us warm to the interesting topics but decidedly cold to the play,

Anatomy Of A Suicide, Alice Birch, Royal Court Theatre, 3 June 2017

I don’t suppose we booked a play named “Anatomy Of A Suicide” expecting to go to the theatre for a jolly time. Which is just as well.

In any case, the Vicky Featherstone regime at the Royal Court specialises in miserablist theatre, as I have discussed elsewhere, so we knew what to expect.

We chose this play because the synopsis sounded very interesting and because we enjoyed Alice Birch’s play, Little Light, a couple of years ago at the Orange Tree. We also tend to like Katie Mitchell’s work as a director. Rarely conventional, almost always interesting. This piece was no exception.

The play is about three generations of women. As the story starts to unfold, each scene in effect depicts three scenes, one for each of those generations, being shown to the audience at the same time.

If that sounds like information and sensory overload to you, then you are spot on; that is exactly what it is. In truth, most of the time there are two active, dialogue scenes and one less active, minimal or no dialogue scene. But still, a heavy sensory load, if not overload.

Further, the play is two hours long without an interval, which is a heck of a long time for drama without a break, even in the easiest of scenarios. Which this isn’t.

Janie described the experience immediately afterwards as feeling like we’d been put through a mental ringer.

And yet it worked as a play and we were both really pleased we’d seen it.

At first, I’m sure both of us were thinking “what on earth is going on here?”, but as the play pans out, the central device becomes apparent and you do get a good sense of what is happening in each of the three generations and how the earlier generations’ events impact on the later generations and how the later generations’ events echo those of the earlier ones.

The acting is superb. Hattie Morahan we’d seen before – in The City by Martin Crimp alongside Benedict Cumberbatch – that’s two weeks in a row the ubiquitous Cumberbatch has had a mention on Ogblog – I told you he’s everywhere. Mind you, that’s two weeks in a row for Martin Crimp as well.

Paul Hilton is a fine actor who we’ve seen several times – he does a grand job in this play. As does Kate O’Flynn – indeed all of the cast were very good.

It must be fiendishly complicated to direct and perform – like a dramatic symphony with so many different parts which have to time and sound in harmony with each other. In fact, we were at the first preview and Katie Mitchell stood up before the show to address the audience. She warned us that the piece was so complex to perform that they might have to stop and start in places on this first performance – but apart from a couple of stutters which might have passed for deliberate, the whole thing was done with aplomb that night.

So, despite the play being a grim portrayal of depression and suicide, it was gripping and superbly unusual drama. We’ll remember this one for a long time. For people with sufficient attention span and a sense of dramatic adventure, we’d highly recommend this play/production.

Janie and I certainly both enjoyed a glass or two of white wine with our light smoked salmon and salad supper when we got home; we’d recommend that too.

A different recent supper on a different continent, but I’m sure you get the drift

Torn by Nathaniel Martello-White, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 24 September 2016

On paper, this looked so good I booked it twice.

Well, in truth, what happened was, this production was tagged on to the end of an almost year-long season booking list almost a year ago, then was re-promoted a few months ago and I didn’t realise that I had already booked it. The Royal Court very kindly took the second set of tickets back; they seem to treat the term “Friend Of” as a reciprocal thing more than most theatres these days – respect.

Anyway, I really liked the look of this production and was in a very good mood for some more drama, as if the thrill of Middlesex’s last day/last hour triumph in the County Championship the day before had not been enough drama for the next year or so.  

Truth is, this play/production did not really float my boat; nor did it float Janie’s. The subject matter should have kept us rapt and engaged; a young woman confronting her family with complicity in the racial and sexual abuse she suffered as a child and youngster, especially at the hands of her step-father.

Yet it all came across as a rather shouty, soap-opera style drama workshop exercise; the latter part of which description is presumably where this play and production started its life. Fine actors, but somewhat untrammelled in/by this play/production.

Here is the Royal Court stub for Torn.

It seems to have had terrific reviews, so I guess the problem is us, not the play/production.  Half-a dozen rave reviews linked on the fourth tab of the above stub so no need for me to repeat them here.  Of the usual suspects, only Chris Bennion of the Telegraph seems less sure and even then thinks the piece worthwhile for “what it has to say”. 

I believe the run is sold out in any case, but perhaps it will get an extension or a transfer given the rave reviews.

For us, I’m mighty glad that we don’t have to see it twice.

We indulged ourselves with Mohsen’s Persian food after the play, which made us feel that the evening was most worthwhile, despite the play.