Tag Archives: Richard Conlon

Lashing Out

THE WHIP HAND

The Door, Birmingham REP, Wednesday 6th September, 2017

 

Dougie (Jonathan Watson) is gathering family members to celebrate his 50th birthday – he has an agenda, a presentation to make.  The venue is his ex-wife’s house and Dougie is welcomed by her second husband, Lorenzo (Richard Conlon) who is a bit of a liberal and a smoothie with a penchant for artisanal ale.  Running tech support for his uncle is Aaron (Michael Abubakar), Dougie’s mixed-race nephew. Completing the party are the ex-wife Arlene (Louise Ludgate) and the daughter she shares with Dougie, Molly (Joanne Thomson).    The nature of these relationships emerges along with the purpose of Dougie’s presentation…  He has received an email from an organisation that seeks reparation for the evils of the slave trade – it turns out Dougie is a descendant of a sugar-beet millionaire and slave master.  Prompted by white-man’s guilt and his milestone birthday, Dougie wants to do some good in the world, and has come to ask Arlene to sign over Molly’s college fund.

This production in partnership with Traverse Theatre Company and the National Theatre of Scotland provides a powerful 90 minutes of drama, laced with barbed humour and performed by a strong cast of five who each get their moments to shine, thanks to Douglas Maxwell’s taut and thought-provoking script.   Jonathan Watson is great as the volatile Dougie, contrasting nicely with Richard Conlon’s smooth-talking Lorenzo.  Louise Ludgate impresses as the sarcastic, impassioned Arlene, who has good reason to be cynical and short-tempered where Dougie is concerned, while Joanne Thomson’s Molly goes on a journey of discovery as secrets from the past are wrenched to the fore.  Michael Abubakar’s outbursts as Aaron add intensity to proceedings.

Director Tessa Walker draws us into the play’s discourse first with the amusing naturalism of a comedy of manners, and keeps us hooked with seething animosity, spoken and unsaid.  We suspect from the start the email is some kind of scam but the argument it provokes (that the world we live in is built on the atrocities perpetrated by slavers) is potent – although we don’t agree with Dougie’s means to redress ancient evils.

When the true nature of the scam comes to light, we see that the evils that need redressing aren’t so evil, as Aaron learns the truth about his father’s absence.

Darkly comic and provocative, the piece is in danger of letting its argument overpower our attachment to the characters – it’s one of those where you admire the performers but detest the dramatis personae.  A good advertisement for family gatherings, it is not!  And it shows us that racism, unlike the slave trade, is not a thing of the past.

A slanging match with bite and substance, The Whip Hand stirs up big themes in a domestic setting.  The personal is political and there is nothing more personal nor political than the bitter quarrels of family members.

15. Jonathan Watson and Louise Ludgate. Photo by David Monteith-Hodge

Jonathan Watson and Louise Ludgate (Photo: David Monteith-Hodge)

 

 

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Swing to the Right

PROPAGANDA SWING

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry Wednesday 17th September, 2014

Berlin, 1939 and American journalist Bill Constant (Richard Conlon) finds his radio broadcasts heavily vetted by nasty Nazi Heinrich Hinkel (Paul Lincoln) and the woman he loves is married to the studio’s band leader. It’s familiar territory with Constant a kind of Isherwood figure. He is our narrator and witness to the tightening stranglehold the Nazis have on their own country as well as the atrocities they perpetrate across Europe.

Jazz music is banned – until someone comes up with the idea to broadcast it to the UK, as a way of undermining British morale – the kind of bonkers idea lunatics on the far right believe will work.

And so the show is full of wonderful music, played live by an excellent band supplemented by cast members who also play instruments. Particularly impressive is Clara Darcy’s Anita who can play a mean trumpet. The music is in stark contrast to the realities of war and life in a crackpot regime, but because we as the audience know the music is being used as a weapon, we know we’re not supposed to enjoy it – especially when Charly Schwedler (Jonny Bower) a handsome young Nazi who changes the lyrics for added racism and anti-semitism.

During the second act, there is no applause. We don’t want to sound like we support the Nazis.

It’s much darker in the second act too. The strong ensemble, directed by Hamish Glen, play some tense and powerful moments, and there is a sense of the evil permeating their society as well as the effect it has on their personal lives, thanks to an intelligent script by Peter Arnott.

The splendid cast includes: Miranda Wilford as Lala the singer in the love triangle with Constant and Lutz Templin (Tomm Coles); Chris Andrew Mellon is dispossessed club owner and comedian Otto Stenzl, who has an extremely uncomfortable set, cracking Jew jokes and baiting the Gestapo; Paul Lincoln is superbly insidious as smarmy tinpot dictator Hinkel; The traitor Lord Haw Haw appears (Callum Coates) to spread his own brand of poison.  Coates is chilling and vile in his portrayal.

The music continues, but it is tainted for us now. Beautifully played, we cannot let it seduce us into applauding evil.

And so it’s a night of contrasts. We enjoy the performers and love the music but the story the show documents is sickening. It’s a salutary reminder why right wing lunacy should never be in power and, sadly, there are still right wing lunatics among us.

swing