Review: The Strange Death of John Doe, Hampstead Downstairs

I’m left unmoved by The Strange Death of John Doe, running at the newly press-covered Hampstead Downstairs

“I mean, where does a person begin and end, and when did they stop being a person?”

So it looks like the Hampstead Theatre’s policy of not having its downstairs shows ‘officially’ reviewed has been well and truly junked asThe Strange Death of John Doe is the second show to get the full press treatment after The Phlebotomist. And perhaps it’s just a coincidence that this one is directed by Edward Hall himself…

As it is, the Hampstead Downstairs’ remit as an experimental space has always been a bit of an iffy one, in reality this is more of a Royal Court Upstairs kind of theatre, and Fiona Doyle’s new play is no exception. An intriguing take on a horrific but underexplored aspect of the refugee crisis, vividly staged with movement by the late Scott Ambler. Continue reading “Review: The Strange Death of John Doe, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Abigail, Bunker

“What would you do to take control?”

Fractured timelines can be an interesting way to tell a story – fragmented shards of drama shuffled in a non-linear narrative, forcing audiences to piece together a throughline to the truth, such as it may exist. But in these cases, we are very much at the mercy of playwrights actually providing enough information to reconstruct enough of a plot. And sad to say, I’m not too sure that Fiona Doyle’s Abigail actually does that. 

That’s not to say that we need to be given all of the answers, to have everything spelled out for us completely, but Abigail remains inscrutably vague to the end. It would be a fascinating exercise to reorder the script here, reconstruct Doyle’s writing to see if that really is the case but in its current state, directed by Joshua McTaggart over the course of an initially intriguing hour, the play still proves frustratingly ephemeral. Continue reading “Review: Abigail, Bunker”

Review: Deluge, Hampstead Downstairs

“The world’s gone all strange”

For better or for worse, the aspect of Fiona Doyle’s new play Deluge that lingers most in the mind is Moi Tran’s design. Continuing a trend of adventurous transformations of the downstairs space at the Hampstead, she has flooded the stage calf-deep – appropriately so for a drama so preoccupied with adverse weather conditions – with platforms at either end and a table and chairs perched on a box placed in the middle of the water. A striking choice but not one without its trials as soon became clear once the audience had taken their place in the traverse seating.

For there’s a fair amount of stomping about from one end to the other, especially in the earlier stages of the play, and consequently splashing galore, given how intimate this theatre is. A little advance warning might have been appreciated – given a couple of the disgruntled faces I suspect a stern letter of complaint or two might well be on the way! – but more significant than any amount of damp patches on your handbag is how distracting the noisy reality of wading through the water proves to be throughout the play. Continue reading “Review: Deluge, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Coolatully, Finborough

“Nobody’s coming to pick you up off that floor. If you lie down then that’s where you’ll stay ‘cause we’ll all be gone soon”

Following Luke Owen’s Unscorched, Louise Monaghan’s Pack and Dawn King’s Foxfinder as the latest winner of the Papatango New Writing contest, Fiona Doyle’s Coolatully proves that a one word title will get you far in this contest, the victorious play receiving a full production here at the Finborough. And perhaps a little surprisingly for a new writing prize, it emerges as a rather conventional piece of Irish drama, its plotting rather schematically spelled out for all to see and little theatrical innovation obviously at work.

Which is a little disappointing as many of the ingredients for a success are present. Doyle’s gift for contemporary characterisation is acutely observed as 27 year old Killian, a former golden child due to his hurling prowess – languishes in the SW Ireland village of Coolatully which has been decimated by the economic crisis. Its young folk (including Eilish, his love interest) are leaving in droves for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, anywhere with jobs and/or good weather and those left behind are struggling, trapped by duties towards parents (Killian) or driven to petty crime (Paudie). Continue reading “Review: Coolatully, Finborough”