SPEECH & DEBATE
Trafalgar Studios, London, Saturday 11th March, 2017
Stephen Karam’s snappy script is brought to life in this new production by a trio of energised performers. Set in an American high school, it covers the experiences of three loners who come together to form a debate club when it emerges that they each have a reason to bring about the downfall of the drama teacher…
Solomon is a neurotic mass, an uptight reporter for the school newspaper. He wants to write an expose to bring the hypocrisy of the mayor (and the drama teacher) into the spotlight. Dinata is a lonely girl, a wannabe actor who uses theatrics to get by, podcasting and blogging away, always with her eye out for the chance to perform. Howie is the new kid at school – it is his online chat with the drama teacher that opens the show and gets the ball rolling.
Douglas Booth is in excellent form as Howie, portraying the boy’s fragility rather than his campness. His barbed lines are exquisitely timed, and there is an appealing vulnerability to his presence. Patsy Ferran has never been better as Dinata, the driving force behind the debate club, the funniest of the three. Wise-cracking and sardonic, she is not as hep and cool as she pretends. Her songs are sweetly funny – and the musical numbers are definite highlights, allowing Ferran to shine. Booth also proves himself as a physical comedian, while Tony Revolori’s understated moves have their own hilariousness. Revolori is superb as the tightly wound, crusading Solomon, who has to come to terms with his own contradictions.
The trio is strongly supported by Charlotte Lucas who appears in grown-up roles as a teacher and a reporter, but for the most part it is the dynamics between the three loners that holds our attention. Director Tom Attenborough keeps the action sharp and the dialogue going off like firecrackers. Economic use of projections show us the online chats that, along with references to Mike Pence, make the script bang up-to-date. The play is not finally about the issues up for debate; it’s the time-honoured theme of teenage awkwardness, of being uncomfortable in one’s own skin. And it’s an absolute delight. A well-observed, snappily presented comedy that reminds us how modern technology can serve to keep us isolated or get us into trouble.
P.S. If Douglas Booth feels like sending me pics, I would not mind one bit.
Was Honest Abe gay? One of the topics up for debate! Douglas Booth as Howie (Photo: Simon Annand)
Leave a comment | tags: Charlotte Lucas, Douglas Booth, London, Patsy Ferran, review, Stephen Karam, Tony Attenborough, Tony Revolori, Trafalgar Studios | posted in Theatre Review
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 28th May, 2015
Before the play begins, Antonio, the titular merchant, stands centre stage in tears. Other cast members take position on benches at the back – they will step up from here as the action requires but there are also more conventional exits and entrances. Servant Launcelot Gobbo sits in the audience, nudging people and directing his comic monologue at them. Director Polly Findlay seems keen to remind us we are in a playhouse – it’s a while before the houselights go down and we can no longer see ourselves reflected in the metallic backdrop.
Most of the time, this approach works and keeps the action zipping along – until there has to be an interlude to sweep up thousands of banknotes, accompanied by some choral singing.
The Venetians inhabit a strange featureless world, their lives measured out by a kind of wrecking ball that acts as a pendulum. The only furniture seems to be a table and chair that appear in the court scene. I don’t mind this – it’s refreshing to see an uncluttered stage but I do question some of the design decisions, in particular the costumes. The clothes are contemporary, kind of, with an Italian couture feel, but work on me as alienation effects. “What has he got on?” I think every time someone walks on. Poor Lorenzo (James Corrigan) is the biggest fashion victim, in his sleeveless, knee-length fur coat and bright blue shoes. There are designer hoodies and clashing colours. When the trial scene comes, it’s a relief to see them clad more soberly and sharply.
Sartorial nausea aside, this is a cracking production, well-played by all. Jamie Ballard’s Antonio is unequivocally the older gay man buying the companionship of the mercenary Bassanio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) – also blatant is his hatred of Shylock, ‘voiding his rheum’ a couple of times directly in the old man’s face. (The only whitewashing I could detect was the omission of Portia’s line, when the Prince of Morocco has lost the casket challenge, “Let all of his complexion choose me so.”) Portia is then the moral heart of the piece. When we first meet her she is the poor little rich girl, bound by the ludicrous rules of her father’s will. She is spirited and humorous, but when we get to the trial scene, she rises to the occasion while still being the sensitive girl we know her to be. Patsy Ferran knocks it out of the park, bringing depth and pain to the triangle she perceives between herself, her new husband and his ‘best mate’.
Antonio and Bassanio are not likeable blokes, but Ballard brings out the suffering as he offers himself up to Shylock’s knife, while Fortune-Lloyd is dashing and not as shallow as he could be. Ken Nwosu is great fun as Gratiano and sweet as the Moroccan Prince – one almost wishes he’d choose the correct casket. (The caskets, by the way, are geometrical shapes suspended on cables: a squat cylinder, a cone and a cube, for some reason) Brian Protheroe is underused as slimeball playboy Aragon, and there is lively support from Nadia Albina as Portia’s waiting woman Nerissa.
Makran J Khoury’s Shylock is an elderly man, who acts with dignity despite being dressed like he’s just off down the betting shop. His revenge against the so-called Christians is justified within the context of the piece and his defeat is upsetting – not because he didn’t get to carve up his enemy (Are his terms any less palatable than Wonga’s?) but because he is stripped of his identity as well as his livelihood.
I’m still puzzling over Tim Samuels’s clown make-up as Shylock’s servant Launcelot Gobbo. Shylock is not the kind to employ a clown. Without these bizarre design choices, this stripped-down Merchant would be excellent.
Time to reflect: Polly Ferran and Nadia Albina (Photo: Hugh Glendinning)
Leave a comment | tags: Brain Protheroe, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, James Corrigan, Jamie Ballard, Ken Nwosu, Makram J Khoury, Nadia Albina, Patsy Ferran, Polly Findlay, review, RSC, RST, Stratford upon Avon, The Merchant of Venice, Tim Samuels, William Shakespeare | posted in Theatre Review