I keep thinking of this above-a-pub theater as the “New Hope” theater, in part because I’m a tiny bit obsessed with Star Wars, in part because its commitment to produce NEW theater and the fact it’s not even a year old yet means it is in two ways a NEW theater, one that is giving us HOPE. “Us” being us theater goers, because we’re always hoping for a brilliant new writer to come along (I am anyway) or even just a brilliant new play; but also, I think, “us” as “the writers” and probably all the other people who want new work to be seen in front of an audience. So even though I need to drop the word “new,” say, when I’m looking for the damned place (at the Hope and Anchor Pub, which is much closer to Islington than Angel stations, but just three doors away from Udderlicious), in my head this is going to be the New Hope Theater for quite some time, with Jedis, jawas, and other villainy hiding in the pub below.
What I didn’t expect the Hope Theater to be doing was presenting a work by Joe Orton; but, of all things, it turns out Fred and Madge had never been professionally done before, so it rated a Hope production – and I was glad for the opportunity to see it. Mind there was a certain level of irony in having the show produced a half hour walk from the flat where Joe was murdered; but I found it all more interesting for the atmosphere of a time and place.
But to really get there, let me take you back: London, the late 1950s. You’re an up and coming gay writer with a background on the rough side. Is it a cool world for you? Like hell it is. You look around and see a place where people live together without love and sleepwalk through meaningless lives they tell themselves are full of value. (Fred – Jake Curran – literally has a Sisyphean job, while wife Madge – Jodyanne Richardson – sieves water. I am not joking.) Meanwhile, you have arbiters of taste making pronouncements from on high – but who can take them seriously?
Into a world that already seems to be crazy, Orton puts both an uncontrollable jungle (elephants and banyan trees taking over London) and then the madness of having us step back out of the play, as the director (Jordan Mallory-Skinner) and his buddy stop the action, cut scenes (so as to have more time to drink), and randomly take the parts of missing characters. It’s actually shockingly postmodern for a student but somehow completely grounded in pre-Swinging London, with sex absolutely invisible and rage hiding beneath the surface (along with the slipper bath). The high point for me is the arrival of the insulter (Andrew Brock) and insultrix (Loz Keysone), who take a Wildean pleasure in disrespecting all and sundry. The two of them go into a high psychotic and psychedelic rage against the BBC that had me gasping for breath – spectacular and most unexpected! I think they seem almost to represent Orton’s ego inserting himself into the play.
But it’s guessing these kinds of things just as much as watching the show that makes for the fun, trying to see Orton’s later themes coming out, hearing his voice developing. I found Fred and Madge at times a bit slow, but its absurdity was still very fresh and you can’t entirely fault such a fine kettle of fish, especially when you spend the second act with a small cup of dark chocolate sea salt ice cream from up the street. MMMMM. Now that’s what I call a good night out.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, October 6th, 2014. It closes October 18th. A brief note that Geordie Wright was fun to watch throughout and I apologize for not mentioning him earlier in the review.)