Tag Archives: Jonathan O’Boyle

Strangers’ Things

A GUIDE FOR THE HOMESICK

Trafalgar Studios, London, Thursday 1st November, 2018

 

Ken Urban’s two-hander is set in an Amsterdam hotel a couple of years pre-Trump (happy days!) and tells the story of Teddy (a very strong Clifford Samuel) who invites a young man he has met in the bar up to his room so they can continue drinking after closing time.  It appears that Teddy has misread signals somewhere along the line and the nerdish, slightly effeminate Jeremy (the excellent Douglas Booth) isn’t gay after all… Or is he?  Jeremy can hardly bring himself to say the word.

As the two men talk and drink, their stories emerge.  It’s true, sometimes, that it’s easier to tell things to a stranger than to one’s closest acquaintances.  Teddy is in Amsterdam with a friend, prior to the friend’s wedding back home in New York, but there is some mystery about the friend’s absence… Jeremy is newly returned from relief work in Kampala – and there is some mystery about his departure from the clinic…

The men winkle, sometimes bully, the truth from each other, piece by piece.  After a lengthy establishing scene, Urban flicks the action between the hotel room now, the hospital in Uganda, and the hotel room when Teddy’s friend was present, with Samuel playing gay Ugandan Nicholas who befriends Jeremy, and Booth becoming Teddy’s unstable chum – who is obsessed with a story of a lonely whale whose song is of a frequency no other whales can hear… The story is a symbol for these two strangers, obviously, and is repeated perhaps one too many times.  We get it.

The quick changes between locations are achieved via Nic Farman’s lighting; the application of a colour wash transports us to sultry Africa at the touch of a button.  Also, Samuel’s African accent both convinces and helps us distinguish the whos, wheres, and whens.

The writing is sharp and funny; the playing of both actors is intense yet nuanced.  Director Jonathan O’Boyle keeps them moving around the intimate space, like caged animals, almost to the extent that I wish they’d keep still and just talk for pity’s sake.

The action covers, via Nicholas, the sickening rise of homophobic murders in Uganda, and how, even now, someone from a privileged background in the States can find it impossible to come out and be at peace with his sexuality.  Clifford’s Teddy is the more forceful presence, while Booth’s Jeremy is more subtly conflicted.  Sparks fly when tempers – and other things – are roused, and issues are thrashed out on a personal level.  With the way the world is going perhaps all we can do is cling to each other.

A thoroughly gripping, amusing yet provocative eighty minutes I strongly advise you to experience.

L-R-Douglas-Booth-Jeremy-Clifford-Samuel-A-Guide-for-the-Homesick-c-Helen-Maybanks_55-1024x620

Setting things straight: Douglas Booth and Clifford Samuel (Photo: Helen Maybanks)

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Hair Bare Bunch

HAIR

The Vaults, London, Thursday 11th January, 2018

 

I am lucky to catch this 50th anniversary production just before it reaches the end of its run and I can only kick myself for not going sooner and allowing time for return visits.  Ground-breaking back in 1967, in terms of sound and format, the show comes across as fresh as a daisy you might wear in your hair.  Members of the ‘Tribe’ make observations of society: civil rights, pollution, war, while the ongoing plot involves handsome Mancunian-wannabe Claude (Robert Metson in fine voice) wondering whether to burn his call-up papers and stay with his hippy friends, chiefly Berger – the excellent, nay perfect, Andy Coxon.  Berger, king of the tribe, is a charismatic figure, sexy, funny – Every time I see Coxon perform I fall in love with him all over again, and that’s before he gets his bum out.

Shekinah McFarlane’s Dionne gets things off to a searing start with her powerful vocals in ‘The Age of Aquarius’; she also plays a mean saxophone later on.  Liam Ross-Mills’s Woof gets carried away with a Mick Jagger poster; Patrick George’s Margaret Mead has fun recruiting an audience member to be her ‘Hubert’ – in fact, everyone gets their moment to stand out: Laura Johnson’s Sheila, Jammy Kasongo’s Hud, Jessie May as barefoot and pregnant Jeanie… The strength of the solo singing is matched by the beauty of the ensemble’s harmonies.  Galt McDermot’s rock-informed score is rich with variety and contrast, while the lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado (and William Shakespeare) range from witty to hard-hitting.  The show is one big highlight.

The cast is not the only thing stripped bare.  The staging is kept minimal, keeping the performers to the fore.  Director Jonathan O’Boyle makes simple but sophisticated use of parachute silk and the occasional prop, keeping us in the Tribe’s trippy world.  An extended tripping sequence is chock-full of striking imagery.  Obviously, the lighting (by Ben M Rogers) helps tremendously with creating atmosphere and a sense of place, but I want to make special mention of the sound design by Calum Robinson and Max Perryment:  aurally, the show is magnificent. Solo voices, ensemble singing, the band and sound effects are all blended to the utmost clarity.  It is a real feast for the ears.

The band, under the musical direction of Gareth Bretherton, is kept behind a fence in an upstage area, but the sound fills the Vaults.  The choreography from William Walton avoids 1960s clichés and exudes an invigorating energy.  The music, the performers, the message, are all irresistible.  The show’s social conscience has resonances with today’s messed-up world just as much as in the 60s.  But beyond all that, it’s an exuberant celebration of life.

Let the sunshine in!  Peace, love and understanding, man.  Etc.

HAir

What a whopper: Andy Coxon’s Berger leads a love-in