Tag Archives: Jack Trow

Domino’s Piece, ah!


The REP Studio, Birmingham, Wednesday 2nd July, 2014


Serbian playwright Neriad Prokic’s first work in 25 years is presented here by Birmingham’s own Stan’s Cafe – the company he challenged to stage The Anatomy of Melancholy a while back (which they did, with aplomb!). Here, theatrically at least, the scale is much smaller although the subject matter deals with the fate of the world. Among intricate set-ups of thousands of dominoes, the four performers deliver scenes, out of chronological order, in which the main players (or suspects) who brought about World War I are shown, conspiring and colluding: among them is Franz Ferdinand whose fate, we know, is sealed. Our guides through this historical essay are two unnamed figures, a kind of Vladimir and Estragon pair or a Yin and Yang. One is pessimistic and pragmatic, the other optimistic and idealistic. It’s interesting if wordy and – probably necessarily so, because of the dominoes that surround them! – rather static. The dominoes and the setter-upper who crawls her way around the floor, adding yet more to the ranks, provide the tension. We know they are going to topple but we don’t know when… And there is the ever-present danger that they might get knocked, trodden on or triggered at the wrong moment.

When they do go, their rattle and slap as they hit the floor is chilling and the devastation almost total. (Perhaps it was meant to be total, I don’t know!) It’s the play’s big theatrical idea.

The play’s other big idea is that the circumstances that led to WWI are being set-up again, like a row of dominoes. The unnamed commentators bring us up to the present day and here, unfortunately, the play becomes more of a lecture. There is nothing we can do, concludes the grumpy one.

The performers: Gerard Bell, Gareth Nicholls, Graeme Rose and Jack Trow deliver Prokic’s words clearly and with conviction, but on the whole the piece is too dry and too bleak for me. The title gives the impression the piece is more dynamic than it is. I felt like I wanted to be stirred into action but I wasn’t. By the end, I was ready to topple like a double blank.

The play is the first half in a double bill to open the REP’s BE Festival. The second play, Next Door, is reviewed separately.

finger trigger


They Shoot Horses…


mac, Birmingham, Friday 22nd March, 2013


Untied Artists bring their straight-talking, matter-of-fact two-hander to Birmingham.  On paper it looks like it might be a bit of a tough watch and a bit polemical, but on stage it’s an engaging and provocative piece.

It tells the story of Scott, a new recruit at the abattoir (sent there by the jobcentre because he wanted to work with animals) and how he learns the trade from experienced knackerman Tom.  We follow Scott’s progress and also the growing friendship between the two men.

Their naturalistic (and funny) scenes are broken up with snippets of narration.  The actors crouch behind tiny buildings that are lit from within.  In a sentence they reveal the story of each building, and every story is related to death in some way.  As well as these, we hear pre-recorded voices, first-hand experience from people in real life –this documentary touch gives the play an authenticity, buoying the naturalistic approach.

Dominating the space is the recumbent figure of a horse – a marvellous life-sized puppet that is hoiked up on pulleys and shot in the head.  It is strung up to be drained of blood before being dismembered and skinned.  The puppet is articulated to suggest horse movements economically (it takes three to operate the one in War Horse!).  When it is taken to pieces, I flinched not just from what this represents but also at the deconstruction of such a beautiful piece of art!

It is a play about managing death.  The knackermen are ordinary blokes, not bloodthirsty monsters.  They are the professionals and know the most humane ways to despatch an ill or lame animal better than the precious owners.  Respect the animal, find the right moment, says Tom before chasing after a rat to twat it with a shovel – it’s a funny moment but highlights one of the main points: how our attitudes to death differ depending on whose or what’s life is at stake.  Tom forks out eight hundred quid in vet’s bills after his dog is run over (“He’s a member of the family”), but later is quick to shoot that very dog when it takes to worrying sheep.

It’s all leading up to the spiky topic of assisted suicide but presented in a quiet, personal way: Tom has inherited a terminal brain disease from his father and begins to falter. Rather than dwindle into indignity Tom approaches Scott, now fully trained, to help him out.  This is not sensationalised – nothing in the piece is sensationalised – or melodramatic.  It is plain-speaking, matter-of-fact and honest and all the more effective because of this.

As Tom, Jake Oldershaw is humorous and warm, an ordinary bloke.  You can’t help liking him just as Jack Trow’s Scott gets to know and like him.  Both give seemingly effortless performances.  Arzhang Pezhman‘s script is informative without being didactic, with true-to-life dialogue that matches the factual input from the recorded voices.   Steve Johnson’s direction balances the naturalistic with the stylised.  It never feels like we are lurching from one to the other. The switching off of the lights in the little houses is a neat idea, really brought home when Tom, on the eve of his final day, plunges us into blackout.

For me though it’s the horse and the way it’s handled that will be my most abiding memory of the show.  Even the space it leaves is evocative.  Crafted by Harry Trow, it is the bridge between the naturalistic and stylised elements of the production and the symbol that epitomises the main theme.

If we can manage the death of other living things as humanely as we do for some animals, why not with people too?  In Tom’s case we feel it’s the right thing but because the play finishes before the event, it opens up the debate.

A thoroughly engaging and more entertaining hour than you might expect, For Their Own Good deserves to be seen by much larger audiences, for their own good.