A Steady Rain, Arcola Theatre

Drip.

Two middle-aged men sit in a run down office. They’re police officers, Denny and Joey. This is Chicago in the 1990s, and Denny, a family man, does what he needs to do to support his wife and kids, both legal and completely illegal. He’s a stereotypical beat cop aspiring towards a promotion that he will never get because he’s racist, abusive and addicted to drugs and fucking the prostitutes he collects protection fees from.

Drip.

Joey’s his best mate, and the complete opposite; he’s sensitive, supportive, respectful and in love with the life that Denny has. Days pass. Denny and Joey are partners in work and in life, having grown up with each other. Joey tries to talk down Denny’s stupid choices, Denny abuses him, then invites him over for dinner. Wash, rinse, repeat.

…drip…drip…

Keith Huff’s script is narration heavy, isolated and flips back and forth in time, centering around key moments leading up to arsehole tragic hero Denny’s (Vincent Regan) eventual fall. Because you can only be a racist, abusive copper for so long before your power tripping bad decisions, all relating to a particular handful of criminals, double back and bite. The dialogue scenes are far better, giving the two men a chance to connect with each other rather than opine to the audience. The narrative arc is low and slow, only gaining momentum after the interval. Though it has a sophisticated structure, Joey (David Schaal) is awarded for being a good guy but denied the spotlight by the blustering, powerful Denny. Regan is despicable, but memorable. The nice guys always hover in the background, right?

Drip.Drip.Drip.

Design is simple, but planned with precision by Ed Ullyart and Simon Bedwell. A metal table is both benign and booming, the fridge is a fridge and an echo chamber, and the constant rain is a leaky pipe with a satisfying climax, albeit one that is over long.

Dripdripdripdripdripdrip

Huff’s language doesn’t hold back, and neither does Regan’s performance. There is a bit too much exposition, and empathy with the characters doesn’t kick in until the superior second half, but by the end Denny’s unraveling, which Regan captures exquisitely, and Huff’s grittily poetic descriptions have the audience by the balls.

A Steady Rain.

Torrential rain.

Drip.

And the rain passes. The air eventually clears. All is well, but the storm’s irrevocable damage will remain. Huff’s characters help compensate for the first part of his script, but this text-based play is longer than necessary. Fortunately the performances break through the clouds.

Silence. Sunshine.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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Macbeth: A Tale of Sound and Fury, Hope Theatre

The witches in Macbeth are the most interesting and powerful characters in Shakespeare’s play, and the easiest to reconceptualise. I’ve seen them as nurses, children, old men, dancers and various other incarnations, with differing levels of success. In 6FootStories’ version, the company’s resident gypsy characters, Billy, Sailor and Blackmouth, play the three witches, who play all the other characters in this hour-long edit. The gypsy fortune-tellers suit the witches’ manipulative, ruthless personalities and the added layer of interpretation is handled skilfully. This three-hander loses its way slightly with the addition of slapstick elements, but good performances and a solid but versatile concept make this three-man Macbeth: A Tale of Sound a Fury thoroughly enjoyable.

Here, the witches are creatures of the earth rather than ethereal, and blend into the sinister gypsy characters well. They don’t feel human what with their grotesquely stylised movement and voice work, but actors Will Bridges, Jake Hassam and Nigel Munson switch from gypsy, to witch, to other characters with clarity and ease. Simple accessories and contrasting accents signify character changes and the cast differentiate them splendidly, taking turns to play the bigger roles. Some actor-character combos work better than others: Will Bridges is a bit too drag as Lady Macbeth, but is a wonderful Macbeth. Nigel Munson is an excellently dark Banquo. Jake Hassam as Sailor is the leader of the three, the most charismatic performer, and excels at every character he takes on. Though as a trio, they fling their energy around the tiny pub theatre and can easily suit a larger venue.

The initial animalistic aggression works brilliantly and is supported by gypsy punk music, giving way to the witches’ playacting the other characters. They return to this tone as the gypsies/witches, until Banquo’s murder, which is inexplicably comedic – an ineffective choice. Though their mocking is cruel and vicious in itself, it breaks the established convention. A further scene employs object manipulation to similar effect, and the objects used are clean and new, also clashing with the filthy aesthetic of the travelling fortune-tellers. 

There are a few other minor issues, such as not returning to the witches often enough and the random appearance of vats of spaghetti, but these are few and rare. 6FootStories thoroughly owns this Macbeth and whilst staying true to the story, adds a level of interpretation that makes this a unique production. It might be tough to follow for someone with no prior knowledge of Shakespeare’s original, but the cast bring clarity, insight and excellent performances – the ingredients of a successful Shakespeare reinvention.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.