Posts Tagged ‘contractions’

Review – Love Love Love – Palace Theatre Watford

March 17, 2011

I may be terrible at remembering the names of directors and actors (especially those people on television) but I am very loyal to writers who produce good works for the stage. I have a list of “see everything by” that includes Ibsen, Pinter … and Mike Bartlett. His play Cock blew me away and was without reserve the best play I saw in 2009, convincing me he had a powerful insight into the strange convolutions of the human mind and a craftsman’s love for creating dialogue that sounded like real people talking. Earthquakes didn’t bring me entirely down to ground (I can’t expect a living playwright to have already had the dross culled from the folio), but the deliciously evil, dystopic Contractions had me again.

Thus, wonders of wonders, I, the nine to five girl who will have her eight hours of sleep, agreed, no, chose on her own, to trek across London into the veritable hinterlands, to Watford, on a school night, so that I could see a new(ish) play by this genius among men. Watford. It was only there for four performances, I was gone for two, so Wednesday night it was, and Tim Watson gamely agreed to accompany me (he even knew where the theater is). And looking at the schedule of the other performances for this tour, by “Paines Plough and the Drum Theatre Plymouth,” Watford was in fact the only even slightly possible city besides Oxford I could see it at. It turns out this company has a “thing” for not doing shows in London, which I found rather ironic (and snobby) considering that much of the play talks about how you just have to live in London if you’re going to have any kind of exciting life (and later on about how if you life in London you basically can’t afford to have a life, period). But, you know, these people don’t care if I get my Mike Bartlett fix or not, so I found my way to the Palace Theater for a 7:45 show (and opening night of the run).

Love, Love, Love runs us through forty years of history and… gosh, I don’t really want to give anything away because so much of my enjoyment was about never having a clue about what the curtain was going to rise on as each of the three acts begin, so I’m going to have to be really careful here. It starts in Swinging London with two brothers from a dull town somewhere else both making a go of life in the big city. Only, really, only one of them is trying; the other is his layabout brother Kenneth (Ben Addis) who does a fantastic job of establishing character as he falls off of a couch attempting to get a glass of whiskey with the minimum amount of exertion. Act two is set in an upper-middle class family’s home in 1990, and introduces two fascinating characters; a fourteen year old boy Jamie, who’s crazy about Stone Roses (James Barrett), and his sixteen year old sister Rose (Rosie Wyatt). They have an extraodinarily naturalistic teenaged brother and sister dynamic going on, and I loved seeing how they dealt with the frustrations to their lives caused by their parents and each other.

Various of the characters travel through time as the scenes change, but I found myself distracted by the lack of attempt at making them up to age: characters from the first scene basically remain eternally young. I think this was a deliberate choice (should have picked up the script but a friend confirmed this was how it was the first time around), as it could be seen as nicely symbolizing the “love” generation’s failure to grow up; but I was confused when parents and children appeared to be more or less the same age. This was especially a problem for Lisa Jackson; her mannerisms simply didn’t evolve in a way that was suggestive of age at all; instead, I found her acting more and more like (a young) Katherine Hepburn as she was supposed to be actually older. Grr.

The play manages to make a political point, that the children of the seventies are basically selfishly sucking up all of the money that could be making the lives of their children better, but I found it easy enough to absorb as partially just the point of one character (likely representing the playwright’s point of view) and not as “THIS IS HOW THINGS ARE WE MUST RISE UP IN REVOLT.” As a message, I didn’t find it grating like Earthquakes was because it was framed very much in the context of telling a story and building up character. Instead of leaving me feeling preached at and used, this jibe served as a sort of glossy icing on top of the cake of the story. I found it something that I could ignore in pursuit of coming up with my own answers to the question, “Why does the modern generation seem to have so much less than their parents did?” It just seems to simple to pawn it off as the fault of selfish hedonists of the late sixties but it was fun to have some real ideas to chew on after the show was over.

However, this is not what makes a good night at the theataer. I was very engaged by the story of one family and how they wound up, through their idiocy and bad decisions and horrible parenting, just utterly and completely screwing their kids. It was very believable, if depressing, and the fights that Rosie has with her parents seemed completely realistic, as did the various not very healthy coping strategies she developed to handle their shortcomings. In fact, message or not, I found myself just really caught up in the drama between the four people who ended up together in the final scene. Really, would any of them ever get their lives together, and would any of them ever have the ability to have any kind of meaningful love and connection in their lives? It seemed so sad that only the people who loved, basically, themselves would wind up happy; but to me, this seems quite a truthful ending for Bartlett to choose. The “good guys” don’t necessarily wind up happy, just like in real life, and that, for me, made for a damned good night at the theater.

(Running time was 2:25 including interval. This review was for a performance that took place at the Watford Palace on March 16th, 2011. Love Love Love continues on tour through June 11th at the Curve, Leicester; the Live Theatre in Newcastle; the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough; West Yorkshire Playhouse; the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich; the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton; the Liverpool Playhouse; the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow; the Hull Truck Theatre; the Royal & Derngate, Northampton; and finally, the Oxford Playhouse. For an alternate review, please see What’s On Stage.)

Review – Contractions – TheatreDelicatessen at an office near Bond Street

October 28, 2010

Mike Bartlett is still riding high in my book after last year’s Cock, so I didn’t hesitate when I saw many and various tweets about the production of Contractions Chris Adams was directing. Bartlett is a master of modern speech and has a deeply penetrating understanding of the quirky underpinnings of human interaction in this day and age. I was more excited to see that it was going to be done in a Real Life Office (or an office building, anyway), but the schedule was a bitch: one week only, and I was out of town for two of those days …. and had shows booked for the rest. Shit! What to do?

An answer suggested itself in the form of something that turned out to be frighteningly in keeping with the play itself: take a very long lunch and go to the matinee. After all, it was in central London: it should be doable. And it was at 1PM. And, er, a friend was going. So I decided to be daring and booked myself for a lunchtime viewing. Ooh! It felt so naughty!

I arrived at the location and found a fortunately clearly signed building (not being clever like Accomplice and pretending to actually be a business but with nice “Theatre Delicatessen” signs plastered outside). Upon arrival, I was given an envelope telling me that my presence was required at a personnel meeting regarding an urgent matter … clearly NOT on my company’s stationery. I was then escorted into a open room with about forty other people in it that had every bit of the feeling of a typical staffing cattle call. What with the nerves caused by skiving, I got quite the nice frisson by the atmosphere (and an even better one from seeing my friend Ian saving me a chair – always better to face the music together!).

We were then escorted upstairs and into a long room with a desk and a single chair in the middle, and four rows of low-quality office type chairs (mine was blue plastic) on both sides, elevated a bit to enable views of the stages (such as it was). The blueish lights shone from over head; the sunlight and noises of London business life came in from the windows. We were at work, as if behind observation glass, and Emma (Holly Beth Morgan), a new employee, walked in the door to sit down in front of her manager (Abigail Rokison) to discuss how her job was going.

Things seemed to be going fine; Emma seemed a cheerful, high-performing employee, who cheerfully bantered about the various details of her first short weeks on the job. But somehow her manager didn’t seem satisfied; she asked leading questions about her behaviour, cut her short with glares and tight smiles, and generally gave the impression that something was not quite right, without saying exactly what.

Over the course of the next forty or so minutes, Emma returned again and again for meetings with her (never named) manager, discussing and justifying her behavior, being torn to bits for nothing, making more and more outrageous attempts to please her manager and the company behemoth that stood behind her, in a world that slowly came to seem like the most perfect example of an uncaring office dystopia I’ve ever seen on stage – certainly right up there with Brazil and Gattaca, only with a much more familiar whiff of this could be just a few years away. The pressure starts to get to Emma after a while, and, well, it just went places I never imagined.

All of this was, of course, done in the thoroughly realistic and psychologically note-perfect words of Bartlett, who handled the interplay between the two women like a sushi chef battling fatty tuna. Morgan really managed to keep Emma’s evolution on track; Rokison, with the more difficult and less sympathetic role, kept the pressure on and handled every word and action with the unflinching falseness of someone being paid to pretend they care about a worker as a human being when truly they are “headcount.”

It was an intense, fast trip and, when the lights came down after Emma’s last exit, I have to say I was a bit relieved. It had all hit very close to home; after all, it’s not the Scissor-Man that keeps most of us up with stomach cramps and high blood pressure; it’s those close to us: parents, partners … our bosses – the people that can really make our daily lives a horror. And this was a tale of horror right up there with anything Poe or Lovecraft would crank out, a horror story of modern working life. I was happy to burst back into the sunshine, but unable to escape my nagging sense of guilt to rush back to my desk and return to being a perfect little worker bee. After all, you never know who is watching.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, October 27th. Contractions continues through October 30th, 2010 and may already be sold out. Good luck getting a ticket! For an alternate take, please see Ian Foster’s review.)