Posts Tagged ‘Jerwood Theatre Upstairs’

Mini-review – Wolf from the Door – Royal Court (Jerwood Upstairs)

September 16, 2014

For the fan of bargain theater, it’s hard to beat the upstairs space at the Royal Court: with every seat priced at £20, it’s right on the edge of “hey it didn’t cost that much so why not” for me (depending on employment circumstances: otherwise, there is still £10 Mondays). Pretty much everything I’ve seen here has been brand spanking new, so it really gets that theater addict blood pounding: is this going to be the amazing show I talk to my friends about for years? So far this year it’s given me a five star show and that’s more than enough to convince me to buy tickets to Wolf from the Door, which, with an approximately 90 minute running time, pretty much was ticking all of my boxes. Actually, this whole “no plays I’ve seen before” pledge I made this year has been working pretty well – I’m actually seeing shows that I’m excited about!

As this play is new and the description is a bit sparse, here’s a (mostly spoiler free) synopsis: a strange young drifter (Leo – Calvin Demba) connects with a much older woman (Lady Catherine – Anna Chancellor), whose attraction to him seems highly suspicous. (In fact, the scene where they meet seems so wholly divorced from the social contract that I thought he might just bludgeon her to death right there. What does happen is far less believable.) She is a Woman On A Mission, and Leo is an integral part of the world she is trying to bring to life. And, for some reason, he goes along with it.

And now for spoilers. While “the total destruction of society as we know it” seems like an unlikely outcome for nearly anything other than ineradicable disease or war, this play was able to convince that the goals that Lady Catherine was trying to accomplish were possible, in part because the whole production had an aura of surreality (the projected and announced titles and violence; the extremely simplified set; the constant reuse of two other fairly recognizable actors in the many varied roles). But also the regular banality of the discussions kept things feeling fairly here and now: discussions about what to eat; a bank manager helping a client; the interminably long scene in a minicab that had me checking my watch.

However, I found the idea that Lady Catherine would really have roused people to do what she said unbelievable; and the motivations of Leo were nonexistent. He wasn’t supposed to entirely be real, as he was a person who claimed to not need to eat or sleep; but I couldn’t believe he would accept the role Catherine intended for him, or indeed most of the things she wanted him to do, with such utter passivity. She also constantly treated him like a servant, which I found a bit gross but also a point that weakened her character’s believability. So, while, ultimately, I was reasonably engrossed in watching this completely bizarre dystopia build itself in front of my eyes, I simply was unable to believe in it enough to get truly emotionally involved. It was Science Fiction Theater but without the beautiful cinematography or deeper commentary on what makes us tick as people. So while I felt like I got my money out of it and I know some people will enjoy it, I can only recommend it to the really hard core theater fans – or maybe people who like German style theater or dystopian lit. But it did get me out the door at 9:10 and that is always a positive.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, September 11th, 2014. It continues through November 1st. It’s mostly sold out but really that’s no reason to fret.)

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Review – Disconnect – Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Upstairs)

February 18, 2010

Tonight J and I went to the Royal Court to see “Disconnect,” Anupama Chandrasekhar’s new play about the lives of Indian call center workers. It was performed in the far, far upper reaches of the theater, the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, which was new to me. Normally horrifying general, unmarked seating was thoroughly compensated for due to good legroom and “Corinthian Leather” bench seats that were actually comfy, and no crazed, EastJet-like scrum for a place.

The show is fully focused on an Indian debt-collection agency, the sort that has its staff use American names and (not sure if this happens, but it did in the show) assume American identities that help them better “empathize” with their marks. We start out the show focused on low-level manager Avinash (Paul Bhattacharjee), a middle aged, long term employee who’s being given his review by Jyothi (Hasina Haque, struggling with the accent). See, Avinash isn’t young and hip enough for this company, which wants its employees to be happy – and double their targets for the month, so he’s got a choice – leave, or take over the lowest performing team in the company.

Quickly the action moves to Avinash’s new territory, the “Illinois” team, who work in a windowless, fourth-floor office. We meet outgoing Ross (Nikesh Patel), efficient but flirty Vidya (Ayesha Dharker), and new kid on the block Giri (Neet Mohan). After expecting a horrifying pack of near-robots, the debt collectors turn out to be amazingly personable, teasing and cajoling their customers into giving them some of their near-nonexistent cash. It’s a hard market: America is, after all, in a recession, and the kids hear all of the horror stories out there. Their camaraderie and repartee is broken by the arrival of Avinash, who tells them it’s time to stick by the script.

At this point I thought the story was going to become about how the three young folks ganged up against the rigid old man, possibly leading to his conversion to a less uptight version of his earlier self, but instead, it mostly continued to focus on the team, their interactions with each other and the rather comic way they handled their calls. A relationship has been developing with Ross and Vidya – at one point (as they continue haranguing their marks for money), he takes her on an imaginary trip to the observation point on the Sears tower – but he starts becoming more distant from her and even (in a shocking bit of dialogue) mocks her for her dark skin. Each of the three gets caught up in their own dramas: Vidya and Ross over the phone, Giri with his own lust for consumer products.

The big conflict turns out to be Ross against Avinash, but for reasons I never guessed and with an outcome that was pretty hair raising – one of those really intense moments of theater when you have no idea what is going to happen next, but have become so caught up in the characters that it really matters to you. I’ll skip comment, though, so as not to ruin the surprise.

Overall, I thought this play still needed a bit of massaging. There was too much fussiness with changing the seats around from one position to another for the many scenes (nearly all of them) that took place in the Illinois room, and at one point I felt like there were too many scenes period, that they were just filling time rather than moving the story along. I enjoyed the depiction of what life might be like on the other side of the phone lines – and the play neatly caught many elements of modern Indian culture – and expect it will improve as the cast settles in, but, still, it’s a slight work – not that I didn’t feel like I got my fifteen quid out of it. And I liked seeing a play that really captured an element of modern society. So: enjoyable, but not life changing, and worth the cost of the tickets.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, February 17th, 2010. Disconnect continues through March 20th, 2010.)