Care, Courtyard Theatre

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by guest critic Harry McDonald

Time passes and we pass with it, but how do you measure getting older? Do you read wrinkles or responsibilities? Or did you never learn to read?

The Courtyard’s revival of Roy Mitchell’s Care, last produced in 1983 at the Royal Court Upstairs and now presented by the Angus McKay Foundation, interrogates a fraught young couple living in Birmingham in the 1970s. Childlike in their domestic play – bouncing between football, music,  comic books and sex – each lover attempts to survive the other’s presence over a long Easter weekend. And yet there is a third person present. Don’t children always make the scariest ghosts?

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Acorn, Courtyard Theatre

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Persephone and Eurydice’s myths are defined by men. What happens when these men are removed and the characters plunged into a modern dreamscape? Maud Dromgoole’s Acorn brings these women and their fates together in a world of fragmented narratives and moments of biting wit, but the worlds that Dromgoole weaves together are so disconnected from each other in this cerebral play that it interferes with its immediacy.

Rather than nurturing plants, this Persephone looks after people – she is a doctor, but one that struggles to connect with her patients. Her opening monologue justifying her disdain for patients’ personal lives is equally hilarious and disturbing, the best scene in the play. Deli Segal brings a simple humanity to this cold character, making her quirky and likeable despite an autistic-like inability to understand others. Lucy Pickles’ Eurydice is a sweet contrast, alternating between a blushing bride and mental health hospital patient. Pickles is no less of a performer, but Persephone has the more dynamic and well-written character.

Dromgoole employs a range of styles, arguably too many for an hour long script. Though this strengthens the ability to relate to the story within individual scenes, the overall effect is one of indecision. An unrelated, recorded dialogue between two men fills transitions unnecessarily and doesn’t link to the women’s stories, then overlapping speech cause dialogue to be missed.

Phil Lindley’s design is simple and precise, allowing for detail and layers to emerge through Jai Morjaria’s lighting and Tom Pearson’s underused projections. The design concepts are most excellently married and add polish to a script that feels under-developed.

Acorn certainly deserves to extending and refining – the characters are excellent, as are the foundations of the stories seen here. Dromgoole uses language well and is clearly confident experimenting with form, style and classical influence, but reinvention with the goal of creating a modern myth doesn’t quite reach the enduring scale of the original material.

Acorn runs through 29 October.

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.

bare., Courtyard Theatre

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Three young women, three short solo performance pieces, three stories of vulnerability make bare., a thematically linked evening of new writing. Each of the three mini-plays has a distinct style and is performed by the writer. They vary in the quality of writing and inventiveness, and feel very new – more like scratch performances rather than finished pieces. bare. is a lovely concept – short, female solo performances that reveal hopes, fears, aspirations and conflict. It could easily become a regular event, giving women the chance to try out one-person work in front of an audience. As is, these pieces certainly need development but the three writer/performers show much promise and commendable initiative that, with development and experience, will certainly improve their work.

Kat Ronson is first, performing ‘IBZ’. This fragmented work follows a young woman’s journey from singledom into a loving relationship. The wild, drug fueled club nights transform into something more gentle and intimate, but her story does not end happily ever after. The young woman’s transformation is lovely, but the choppy writing makes for an unclear narrative and timeline. Ronson uses comedy punch lines and moments of reflective sincerity effectively, but this doesn’t balance out the vague writing. This piece would benefit from dramaturgical support and a hefty re-write, but the concept and central character are certainly workable.

American Steffanie Freedoff shows that yanks can handle their poetry and spoken word with ‘in the beginning there was Word’, a biographical monologue in verse about hating poetry as a teenager and growing to love it as an adult. This is also a coming-of-age story, but a much more positive one on self-discovery and confidence. It’s a bit cheesy and motivational, but the two stand-alone poems she ends on are angry, provocative and polished. The focus is on these pieces, which feel disconnected from the first part of the performance but add variation in style and tone. This second mini-play also needs development and shaping to find its overarching message, but it feels like it could be lengthened without becoming dull.

Madeleine Dunne brings a strong character piece to the trio with ‘Mind the Gap’, a piece that looks at the struggle of overcoming mental health issues. Lucy is a little girl terrified of breaking the rules and a young adult still limited by these fears. Told in two parts, Dunne’s gift for transformation is revealed in these two naturalistic monologues. It’s not clear who she is talking to and why in either section, but the character is a suitably interesting one. Lucy could also work well as the protagonist in a full play with multiple characters, perhaps even better with others to respond to rather than limited in a solo performance.

A quiet, sung finale wraps up the evening, a nice touch that adds some unity to these unrelated plays. bare. still feels like a scratch or showcase with a range in quality, but as a themed performance event, it is poignant and well curated. All three pieces need refining and/or expansion, though each shows at least some element of promise.

bare. runs through 16 July.

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.