Review: Untitled Matriarch Play (Or Seven Sisters), Royal Court

 “Be the change you want to see in this world”

As we get closer to the end of the weekly rep season, I’d love to be able to say that the over-arching conceit of the whole affair has been revealed in a moment of stunning clarity, but instead it just trundles on as a bold experiment which has had just as many misses as it has had hits. Play number five – Nikole Beckwith’s Untitled Matriarch Play (or Seven Sisters) – was closer to the former than the latter for me – a decent concept but one besmirched by an over-extended, over-worked stab at something interesting that rarely comes off.

The play begins in Nowheresville USA with Siobhan Redmond’s Lorraine gathering her ageing mother and her four-strong brood of daughters to reveal that she is going to have another baby, and this time it will be a boy. This comes as something of a surprise as Lorraine is 54, so she is employing a surrogate in the form of Angela Terence’s Sera, but her decision awakens a whole host of dissatisfactions in these women as the situation highlights the frustrations they all hold. Continue reading “Review: Untitled Matriarch Play (Or Seven Sisters), Royal Court”

Review: Mint, Royal Court

“Is that what you knew? Even then? Even as a little boy? That you had it in you?”

The Royal Court’s weekly rep season has been about promoting new writers but the name Clare Lizzimore may already be familiar to some, as indeed it was to me and making me more intrigued to see her play – Mint – than any of the others. She has worked as a director for a few years now, creating some excellent work in intimate surroundings like Mike Bartlett’s Bull at Sheffield’s Studio and One Day When We Were Young as part of Paines Plough’s Roundabout season. But Mint marks her first foray into playwriting, as part of the Royal Court’s Jerwood New Playwrights programme. 

And whether through design or just a happy accident of fate, it reunites Lizzimore with Sam Troughton – most excellent in Bull – who takes on the lead role of Alan and delivers one of the finest performances this season has seen so far. Alan is facing a five year prison sentence for an unspecified act of robbery and as he serves his time, we see the snippets of normality he is allowed to experience through the weekly visits from his family. The banter with his slightly older sister, the bickering with his much younger sister, the grim disapproval of his stern father, the blithe but affected nonchalance of his uncomprehending mother. But the play also covers the three years after his release as it turns out being released ain’t as easy as all that.  Continue reading “Review: Mint, Royal Court”

Review: Pigeons, Royal Court

“Shit that went wrong right wrong (again)”

Spin number three on the Royal Court’s weekly rep wheel focuses on a new British writer Suhayla El-Bushra. Much of her previous work has been teen-focused, including Hollyoaks, and so it is little surprise that her play Pigeons centres on two childhood friends as they make the difficult transition into manhood in a world that dreams of multiculturalism. Through the haze of casual drug use, furtive blow-jobs under the counter, bunking off schools and listening to some bangin’ choons, Ashley and Amir find their lives inexorably pulled apart on different paths yet fatefully destined to clash together again. 

El-Bushra has fractured her timeline so that her play starts at the end and then moves back and forth in time to show the boys in the various stages of their relationship. A product of the care home system, Ashley loves playing the Sarf London wideboy with Ryan Sampson affecting some wonderfully vivid street speak, but he finds a kind of contentment in Amir’s family home. And along with Nav Sidhu’s Amir, they both enjoy the teenage rites of passage – Angela Terence’s Leah delivering their sexual awakenings – and the journey into something darker as the spectre of racial prejudice rears its ugly head.  Continue reading “Review: Pigeons, Royal Court”

Review: Lay Down Your Cross, Hampstead Downstairs

“Fancy a pork pie?”

The Hampstead Downstairs has attracted an interesting range of creative talents since opening and with perhaps fortuitous timing, welcomes Nick Payne’s newest play Lay Down Your Cross. Payne is coming off the huge sellout success of Constellations upstairs at the Royal Court, but this is a much different piece of work – more akin to Wanderlust, my other experience with him as a playwright. We’re in Tony’s poky new flat in Luton where he is waiting for the arrival of his daughter Dawn, who has emigrated to Australia, as it is the funeral of his soldier son Adam. As we also meet his scatty ex-wife Grace, who’s all too keen on a box of wine or two, and Adam’s girlfriend Raph who is worrying about delivering the eulogy, Dawn gets to find out some uncomfortable truths about home, and her brother’s death.

Payne excavates this troubled family dynamic extremely well: the emotional distance between them all, Tony’s struggle to shake his ex-wife’s dependence, his bluff demeanour having to hide his disappointment at the choices that his children have made, his lashing out when things get too much, all is excellently portrayed in Andy De La Tour’s persuasive performance. His quiet heartbreak is set well against the blinkered disintegration of Grace, Susan Wooldridge in fine form, but the play suffers a little with the shift into the blame game which comes with Dawn’s relentless pursuit of the truth. Lucy Phelps does well at signifying the righteous liberal anger but Payne absolves her, too easily for my liking, from the familial responsibility from which she has divorced herself and I wanted more resolution in this father/daughter relationship. Continue reading “Review: Lay Down Your Cross, Hampstead Downstairs”