Review: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Print Room

“Everyone is sensitive to something”

Given the amount of writing that Tennessee Williams produced – not a year goes past without a premiere of some new short play or other by him – it’s no surprise that there’s a good deal of his work that falls into the little-performed category. A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one such play, written in 1976 and now revived at Notting Hill’s Print Room, directed by Michael Oakley.

In a St Louis, Missouri apartment sometime in the 1930s, a group of women spend a sweltering Sunday preparing for a picnic, illuminating as Williams so often does, the precarious nature of women’s place in society. All four are single but at different stages in their life and naturally it is the youngest – civics teacher Dorothea – who is the driving force, believing she has the most at stake. Continue reading “Review: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Print Room”

Review Five Finger Exercise, Print Room

“She got all dressed up and went to a sexy club in Ipswich”

In the characterful, if chilly, auditorium of former cinema The Coronet, actor Jamie Glover has returned to the world of directing with this little-seen debut play from Peter Shaffer (he of Equus and Amadeus). Set in the 1950s, Five Finger Exercise follows the Harrington family as they retire to their Suffolk country cottage to try and ease their dysfunctional ways but the employment of a young German tutor shatters what uneasy peace existed as his interactions with each cause mayhem and meltdown.

In some ways it is quintessentially English, hints of Coward-like playfulness and Rattiganesque repression but as a programme note points out, Shaffer’s time in the US as a young man is just as much in evidence with the ferocity of the emotion that spills out here. Strapping and handsome Walter thinks he found the ideal family unit in which to seek refuge from his Nazi officer father but one by one, he releases something in each Harrington that simply won’t go back. Continue reading “Review Five Finger Exercise, Print Room”

Review: As Good A Time As Any, Print Room

“It’s very peaceful…”

It’s often that the mind thinks to compare Peter Gill with Simon Stephens but sitting through the former’s self-directed new play As Good A Time As Any in the surroundings of the Print Room at the Coronet cinema in Notting Hill, one couldn’t help but wonder what a different director might have made of it. The playtext for Stephens’ Carmen Disruption allows for, even actively encourages, directorial innovation, offering up a world of theatrical potential (in this case, ingeniously realised by Michael Longhurst) but there’s little of that imagination spilling forth from Gill.

Which is not to denigrate the quality of the writing here, which has a hypnotically compelling quality that transports its naturalism to a higher plane. The play consists of eight women sharing their everyday thoughts in all their banal humdrumness, divided into five choruses that break up the rhythm and interweaving with each other to demonstrate that no matter how different we think we are from the person across the street, the stranger sat opposite on the tube, the seatmate in a never-changing waiting room, we’re all pretty much the same, thinking pretty much the same thoughts. Continue reading “Review: As Good A Time As Any, Print Room”

Review: Notes From Underground, Print Room

“You’re not going to like this”

 

Well, you might. If a healthy dose of Franco-Russian existential angst is your thing, or the chance to see Harry Lloyd deliver a wonderfully intense 70 minute-long monologue at very close quarters tickles your fancy, then Notes From Underground could well be for you. Equally, if cramped and uncomfortable seating irks (and at these prices, it really ought to), then the hour of angst you experience might very well be your own.

The Print Room has recently relocated to the atmospheric but abandoned Coronet cinema in Notting Hill and this one-man show, adapted by Lloyd and French director Gérald Garutti from Dostoyevsky’s novella, is the debut show in these new surroundings. The building is clearly a work in progress and clearly has much potential, not least in its rich history not only as a former picturehouse but a theatre too, so one might be inclined to forgive a little discomfort on the derrière.

And I did, for the first 40 minutes or so anyway. The entrance into the show is brilliantly disarming – seated by ushers, we’re also welcomed in by the bedraggled figure of a man sat on a decaying armchair upstage, waving manically and boring into our souls from the off with a deep baleful gaze. As he begins to speak, it is clear that he’s not necessarily all there having cloistered himself away from society for 20 years to work on deciphering the meaning of life if not ensuring all of his marbles are still in his possession.

Lloyd’s delivery is almost hypnotically rat-a-tat-tat at first as he shuttles from apparent lucidity and fevered mania, often contradicting himself several times in a sentence only to loop back around to the original statement. And as his narrator rails against the state of the world (as was, but also in many ways as still is), against humanity and the fallibility of the individual, against him and us and him again, it is hard not to get swept up in his labyrinthine trains of thought, guided by the subtle textures of Bertrand Couderc’s lighting and Bernard Vallery’s creeping sound design.

Once he moves to a recounting of the events that led him to become a hermit in his St Petersburg apartment (there’s a girl, there’s always a girl), the show’s latter stages lacked something of the same compelling vigour as the spell it had cast began to wore off. The format is undoubtedly relentlessly demanding and despite the best efforts of the raggedly bearded but still huge charismatic Lloyd, my attention did begin to wander, mainly to thoughts of the numbness of my bum. I was tired though and it was the second show of the night for me (after the nearby The Edge of Our Bodies) so it’ll be interesting to see how others take to it.

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 1st November

Review: Amygdala, Print Room Balcony

“I should imagine perspective plays a part”

Geraldine Alexander’s last stage outing in The Empty Quarter was pretty astoundingly good so I was intrigued to see how her debut as a playwright would turn out in Amygdala, tucked away in a found space at The Print Room. Hermione Gulliford plays Catherine, a successful lawyer with a busy family life who finds herself unravelling when a chance encounter on a bus leads to a heady affair with a handsome young man, Alex Lanipekun’s Joshua, but one with terrible consequences.

In the aftermath, Jasper Britton’s psychiatrist Simon is charged with trying to fix the emotional wreckage, the damage done to the ‘amygdala’ – the part of the brain where emotion and memory reside – but in delving into her psyche, he unwittingly stirs part of his own. It is a simply drawn play – although one full of densely complex thoughts and writing – but one in which both of Catherine’s key relationships feel curiously unrealistic – the therapist’s couch unleashes a high degree of unprofessionalism and the affair feels a little convenient.

That said, there is no doubting the quality of the acting in Alexander’s production (she directs too) particularly from Gulliford in the intense later stages of the play. Britton is strong too as he tries to suggest why such a seasoned worker might be tempted to cross a crucial boundary and Lanipekun plays off his handsome looks most effectively. The awkwardness of the space means that the production always seems like it is struggling against something but given the nature of the writing, it almost seems appropriate.


Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)

Booking until 14th December

Review: The Dumb Waiter, Print Room

“Scampi!”

The charms of Harold Pinter have long eluded me and so the idea of a £20 50-minute show in a theatre far away from mine on a TFL-challenged weekend did not fill me with the hugest amount of excitement. But the promise of a nice dinner afterwards got me there and whilst I can’t say that The Dumb Waiter provided any Damascene conversion, it was definitely better than I thought it was going to be.

Two hit men sit waiting in a basement – it is Pinter after all – expecting someone to get in touch with their next job and whilst they wait, they fill the time with banal discussions and squabbles over such minutiae as football matches from their past, the local news and the correct wording of a particular saying. The banter bounces back and forth and as the time comes ever closer to the order being received, the mood darkens into something much more menacing.

Jamie Glover’s production has a strong sense of the farcical nature of these two men’s existence, obsessed with the superficial as they avoid the unspoken weight of the reality of their employment. And as the dumb waiter in the room cranks into service, the sets of instructions that they receive leave them, and us, baffled. I don’t think it was just me whose mind kept wandering off though as the obliqueness proved to be less than riveting.


But as the finale kicks in and something close to a purpose comes to light, it does suddenly become really quite engaging and the ending cleverly leaves so much poised and a thousand questions dangling tantalisingly in the air. Clive Wood and Joe Armstrong’s performances are strongest with the comedic aspect of the production and both prove enjoyable, but such expensive brevity means I’d be hard-pressed to recommend you make much of an effort to go see it.


Running time: 50 minutes (without interval)

Booking until 23rd November

Review: Flow, The Print Room

“Go with the flow…”

Since setting up as a new venue in 2010, The Print Room has pulled together programmes covering a wide range of artistic disciplines. So whilst the following months sees live sculpture making and plays from Brian Friel and Amy Herzog, one can currently take in an exhibition of photography and an international dance premiere in Hubert Essakow’s Flow. A musing on the unique properties of water and the different relationships that we have with it in its varying states, it creates a dance experience that is immersive in more ways than one.

Waterproof bibs, not dissimilar to binbags with neck holes, are handed out as the audience enter the West London studio, seated around the edge of the intimate space with its raised performance area and a column of sheer fabric in the centre. And from here, the five dancers work their way through their way through water in all of its forms, from the frozen tranquillity of the ice-bound opening sequence through to the exhilarating energy of a powerful storm with rain falling from sprinklers and the dancers splashing so gleefully, you’ll be glad of your binbag! 

Essakow’s choreography ebbs and flows beautifully through the different sequences, pulling together different combinations of the company as movement ripples through them, across them, out of them. Thomasin Gülgeç‘s measured solo from within the ice has a beautiful grace which stands out and all five impress in the Vapour and Gas section, fading in and out of sight as mist fills the space yet forms a kinetic connection between them all. With Tom Dixon’s elegant design and Peter Gregson’s elegiac score blending piano and cello with electronics, much of Flow combines delicacy and intensity to evocative, compelling effect.

But the show over-reaches itself when it ventures away from choreography. Stories of the dancers’ own experiences with water at least have a personal edge but the action is also interspersed with projections of hard-hitting statistics and witty bon mots. These just feel forced into the flow of the evening, alternately straining for a gravity or levity that doesn’t always feel warranted, given how emotive so much of the dancing is, and simply ends up trying too hard.

And it just doesn’t need to. The pleasure that comes from the fevered turbulence of the tempest is genuinely thrilling, even as the dancers thrash and splash with passion and intensity, and is soon followed by the gorgeously slow fluidity of the calm after the storm, a wistful sequence that melts away into the ether for a hushed but moving finale.  

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 23rd February


Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Thom Pain (based on nothing), Print Room

“Enough about me, let’s get to our story”

John Light’s performance in bringing this hour-long Will Eno monologue to life has to be one of the most mesmerising experience currently available to theatregoers. Simon Evans’ revival of Thom Pain (based on nothing) at the Print Room in West London is an unrelenting search for the self which, initially at least, balances the prolonged processing of existential angst with a vein of scabrous, self-lacerating humour to inspirational effect.

Alone on the stage, Pain is a man telling us stories. Amusing anecdotes from a klutzy childhood, the travails of a failed relationship, but the darkness that lies behind his troubled psychology is never far away and as the drama (metaphorically) rolls up its sleeves, it reveals the long-lasting scars these experiences have left. But Eno is less concerned about a pat reveal of early trauma shaping a man’s life, his focus is more on the survival mechanisms, the way in which people deal, and then continue. Continue reading “Review: Thom Pain (based on nothing), Print Room”

Review: Uncle Vanya, Print Room

“My life no longer has any shape to it”

It was perhaps a little bit of a surprise when the Print Room announced their latest show to be Chekhov’s classic Uncle Vanya, the relatively new theatre having previously concentrated on lesser-known works by playwrights. But any doubts should be seriously allayed by this intimately atmospheric production which utilises a new version by Mike Poulton to lend a fresh dynamic to this tale of corrosive inaction.

Vanya has spent much of his life attending to the affairs of his former brother-in-law Professor Serebryakov, sequestered in a household of misfits in the Russian countryside. But when the professor turns up with his new much younger wife, Vanya is provoked into a period of gloomy self-reflexiveness as he faces up to how much of his life he has wasted. The new arrivals also cause havoc for other residents of the estate as ultimately everyone is forced to confront what might have been. Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Print Room”

Review: Judgement Day, The Print Room

“Critics! Do I work to amuse them? Can they judge me as equals? – when they are themselves without my gift.”

Part of the The Print Room’s artistic mandate has been to unearth little-known works by major playwrights to bring them new life and after Alan Ayckbourn and Tennessee Williams, it is Henrik Ibsen’s turn. Here, his final play When We Dead Awaken has been adapted by Mike Poulton into a new version named Judgement Day and in James Dacre’s production, features some luxury casting in both Michael Pennington and Penny Downie working hard in this intimate theatre.

As with much of his later work, Ibsen casts an excoriating self-reflecting view on the life and longevity of the artist. Arnold Rubek is an ageing sculptor, hugely successful with his early work yet now lacking inspiration with both his work which has become perfunctorily commercial and in his personal life, his young wife Maia cares nothing for art and their’s appears to be a mutually antagonistic relationship. However, the arrival of his long-lost muse Irena and the animalistic Baron Ulfheim offers challenges and possibly renewed hope for both of them. Continue reading “Review: Judgement Day, The Print Room”