Review: Plastic, Old Red Lion

A brutal and bleak look at teenage dreams and experiences – Kenneth Emson’s Plastic is playing at the Old Red Lion before a short run at the Mercury in Colchester

“Think Columbine, think Sandy Hook, think Virginia Tech…”

Deeply poetic, densely constructed and deftly performed, Kenneth Emson’s Plastic finds itself in the unfortunate position of being considered timely. In its depiction of the way violence insinuates itself into society through schoolhood trauma, and disproportionately affects teenagers, it has a horrible currency reflected in the rising crime rates that Amber Rudd apparently knows so little about.

Set in Emson’s native Essex, at a secondary school where old friendships have been recalibrated along new tribal lines, Plastic examines not just the faultlines that emerge from being bullied, but the hopelessness that accompanies the thought that being the popular kid might just be as good as life will ever get. Brutal and bleak, it is uncompromising about how desperate life can get for those feel left behind. Continue reading “Review: Plastic, Old Red Lion”

TV Review: Humans Series 1

“You’re just a stupid machine aren’t you”

I wasn’t going to write Humans up but I’ve spoken so enthusiastically about it with several people since I watched the whole thing in three days and so thought I’d better recommend it even further. If there’s any justice in the world, Gemma Chan will win all sorts of awards for her performance as Anita (later Mia), the Synth or human-like android that has become the must-have accessory for domestic service in this parallel present-day universe. 

Anita is bought by the Hawkins family who soon start to twig that something isn’t right in the way she is behaving and as Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s drama continues over its 8 episodes, we come to see that the lines between human and machine have been considerably blurred by technological advancement and its potential to be exploited identified as a key priority for the nefarious powers-that-be.

Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 1”

Review: Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, Royal Court

“We have to be remembered”

This rehearsed reading of Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance was held at the Royal Court in memory of its playwright John Arden who passed away in March of this year. I decided to attend as he’s not a writer I’m familiar with and the little reading I about him that I did in advance seemed to suggest that he’s possibly due a Rattigan-like revival. Though now apparently considered a highly significant British playwright, his work hasn’t really been in fashion in recent decades and his was a career marked with frequent clashes with the theatrical establishment which has possibly led to his oeuvre being a little neglected.

The journey of the play Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance itself seems archetypal in this respect. It was received badly by both critics and audiences on its opening in 1959 but is now considered to be his best play and a modern classic. The process of exactly how something like this happens is something I’m very interested in discovering more about, (a short programme note explains the Royal Court themselves published a leaflet for audiences asking ‘What kind of theatre do you want?’ to get to the bottom of the issue) but on the evidence of this play, it is a little hard to see why it was not a success. Continue reading “Review: Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, Royal Court”

Review: Barrow Hill, Finborough

“Maybe I’m meant t’stay ‘ere. Maybe…”

Barrow Hill is Jane Wainwright’s debut play, set in her native Derbyshire. 86 year old Kath Bilby is determined to save her local Methodist Chapel from being converted into flats as her family ties to the place are numerous and considerable. But when she finds it is her own son Graham, seeing an opportunity to address financial difficulties, who has won the building contract, both mother and son are forced to deal with their divided allegiances in this delicately moving tale at the Finborough.

Wainwright presents the idea of family loyalty and community as a double-edged sword. The succour that Kath finds from the wealth of family history and intimate familiarity around her is contrasted with the stifled ambition of grand-daughter Alison, itching to explore life beyond Derbyshire though keenly aware of how tightly the family bonds are felt. There’s a subtle grace to much of the writing here, Janet Henfrey’s determined feistiness convinced of her path of action and filling the void in a life where so many of her friends have died, and Cath Whitefield’s brusque wit just about hiding the more sensitive soul longing to come out. Continue reading “Review: Barrow Hill, Finborough”

Review: The Hairy Ape, Southwark Playhouse

“Dat’s de stuff! Let her have it! All togedder now! Sling it into her! Let her ride! Shoot de piece now! Call de toin on her! Drive her into it! Feel her move! Watch her smoke!”

I loved Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie at the Donmar last year and thought his Long Day’s Journey Into Night was truly exceptional when I caught it earlier this year, so the prospect of one of his lesser known works – The Hairy Ape – at the ever-inventive Southwark Playhouse was one that intrigued and so I let myself be talked into catching it just before it closed. It is definitely closer to the former of the above-mentioned plays in its primal expressionism, tales of the sea and the search for belonging.

In the engine room of a transatlantic liner, Yank is the king of his world, leading his team of workers as they shovel away. His certainties are stripped away when a young upper class lady makes her way below-deck, leaving shocked and horrified at what she sees but opening Yank’s eyes to life beyond what he knows. His reaction is to try to find out what disgusts her but he soon discovers that she represents a whole world that doesn’t or won’t accept him. Continue reading “Review: The Hairy Ape, Southwark Playhouse”