Tag Archives: Conor Nolan

Grounds for Fun

HOPPERS

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Tuesday 29th January, 2019

 

This latest production from Gritty Theatre is the brand-new piece from Michael Southan, and it’s quite a departure from his earlier play, Fred & Ginger but no less enjoyable.  It’s a kind of play-within-a-play, with three cast members walking on, carrying cardboard boxes to add to those already on stage.  They announce they’re going to do a spot of pub theatre and tell us a story called Hoppers and it’s football-related – Hoppers are ‘groundhoppers’, fans who try to attend matches at a number of stadiums throughout the season.  That’s what I gather, anyway; I could be mistaken.

And so, there’s plenty of fourth-wall breaking as the three narrate, often speaking in verse like a scaled-down Greek chorus, using their physicality and versatility to set the scene.  They recruit a plant (well, a woman) from the audience to be the protagonist.  This is Sal (played by Michelle Jennings) a foul-mouthed barmaid whose father has just died, thus triggering a quest.  The retrieval of a missing away kit drives the plot, as Sal goes from pillar to post, and club to club, meeting oddball characters and meeting their demands so she can track down the precious relic and complete her late father’s collection.  Jennings does a good line in exasperation as the beleaguered barmaid; Sally learns there was more to her dad than she ever knew.

Appearing as her father, as well as a host of other characters including boring Tony off the radio, is the rather protean Conor Nolan, whom I cannot fault.  Equally committed are Amy Anderson and Danny Milwain (who seems to be constantly snacking on something, whatever role he’s playing, including at one point an entire cucumber.  You don’t see that every day.)  Director Dominic Thompson gives them plenty of business which they pull off with precision and skill.  The presentation is sharp, slick and sassy, reminding me of early work by Godber with the added four-letter words of Berkoff, and while there is some lovely writing here, the form tends to overshadow the content at times.

There is much to enjoy here: a slow-motion skittles event, for example, and some perfectly timed reactions.  The local accents (instant comedy!) and local references strike home, even if in my ignorance I don’t appreciate the whole non-league football theme.

As items are unpacked from the ever-present boxes, Sal learns and we learn that there is more to our parents than their role as our parents – they are people too, with ambitions, interests and histories we would do well to learn about while there’s time.

Funny, with its heart and its theatricality on the sleeves of its football strip, Hoppers is both simple and sophisticated, almost mythic in its storytelling, and entertainingly enacted by an energetic ensemble.

hoppers

Chorus to this history: Conor Nolan, Amy Anderson, and Danny Milwain

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Quartet with strings

FOUR PLAY

The Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 5th September, 2018

 

Jake Brunger’s play from 2016 is a fresh and funny four-hander about relationships and commitment, particularly among gay men.  Rafe and Pete, seven years in, are itching to broaden their experience, only ever having been with each other.  They recruit Michael, a friend from Facebook, for an evening with each of them.  There are rules: Michael’s partner Andrew must not find out, being chief among them.  Of course, anyone who has seen Gremlins knows that as soon as rules are mentioned they are going to be broken…. Michael tells Andrew from the off…

This comedy of manners gets off to a hilarious start as the nervous Rafe and the taciturn Pete meet Michael to make the proposition.  Conor Nolan is superb as the adorably awkward, sweet but slightly twattish Rafe, with flawless timing and sensitivity.  He is utterly credible from the start.  Dominic Thompson’s Pete is initially a man of few words; it emerges that it is Pete who initiated the idea to spice up their sex lives, Rafe is going along with it for the sake of peace.  Thompson imbues Pete with an animalistic intensity.  Beyond the smart trousers and bottles of prosecco, Pete is a seething mass of passion.  Thompson is an actor of charismatic presence in all he does, and he brings out Pete’s softer, more romantic side too.

Tom Silverton retains a measure of detachment and elegant aloofness as Michael, the recruit, who is apparently able to separate sex from emotion.  It is only when the situation reaches breaking point that he expresses his true feelings – never mind can of worms, these are electric eels bursting out.  The archness and bitchiness of Andrew (Tye Harris) masks vulnerability and low self-esteem, as he clings to Michael despite the ‘rules’ of their open relationship.  Harris’s outbursts are powerful, revealing the true Andrew beneath the campness.

All four members of this quartet turn in a compelling, rounded performance.  The comedy of manners develops into searing emotional scenes.  Director Tracey Street manages the tonal changes splendidly.  The minimalist setting gives focus to the actors in this intimate space – which is all this piece requires.  In fact, as soon as props come in, we get wine sloshed around, glasses get broken… Street contrasts the overall naturalism of the performance with a stylised, contemporary-dance-like sequence to represent Pete and Michael having sex.  It’s a beautiful moment – for us, to appreciate the movement skills of Thompson and Silverton – but ugly in what it means for the characters we have come to care about.

Brunger’s writing is dazzlingly good.  The play suggests that open relationships may not necessarily be all that open, that monogamy might not be that monogamous, that there is indeed more than one way to have a relationship, but as long as those involved want different things, there will always be tension and the potential for breaking-up.  And perhaps sex cannot be entirely detached from emotion after all.

Entertainment of the highest quality, this production is thoroughly engaging, funny and touching.  I adored it.

four play

Awesome foursome: Tom Silverton, Tye Harris, Dominic Thompson, and Conor Nolan