Double Feature 1 was good fun, but I think I would have preferred either The Swan, or Edgar and Annabel, to simply be twice as long, and flesh out their material more thoroughly. Both mini-plays are memorable, though the players in Edgar are just a bit too comedic and matter-of-fact for my taste, not fully conveying the horrible danger they are in, sacrificing suspense for laughs. The players in The Swan are far more convincing, though this play doesn't have the sophistication of the previous play's structure, nor it's topical CCTV Big Brother society resonance, relying instead on the playwright's pithy realistic dialogue to jazz up what is effectively a series of soap-opera style reveals. Claire-Louise Cordwell is wonderfully brash, which the play hilariously has her attribute to ADHD. Trevor Cooper succeeds in blending the use of foul swearwords with a deep tenderness. - Steve
20 Aug 11
The writing of this second pairing of new plays at the Nationalís Ďpop-upí theatre is nowhere near as good as the first, Iím afraid. Itís hard to see how they went through the same editorial process as they feel like the writers needed help turning interesting ideas into plays.
Given that I donít really like monologues and canít stand cricket, Nightwatchman was always going to be a struggle. Abirami is a British Sri Lanka female cricketer about to represent England in a test match at Lords and her monologue takes place at an indoor practice crease the day before. Prasanna Puwanarajahís play explores the Sri Lankan Tamil situation and in particular the attitudes of British Sri Lankanís. Much of her monologue is directly spoken to her deceased father. The problem with it is that it is more of a ramble than a narrative and occasionally becomes a rant. It desperately need some structure and editing. Actress Stephanie Street works wonders with the material sheís got to work with and the cricketing effects are excellent.
Tom Basmanís There Is A War is an absurdist surreal fantasy during a war between the blues and the greys. New doctor Anne is trying to make her way to her post in a military hospital. Along the way she meets a host of peripheral participants including a dance therapist, clown, chaplain and entertainer as well as some soldiers. Basdenís point seems to be the pointlessness of war with participants not even knowing what they are fighting for and why. When she arrives, she finds that the hospital itself is now a war zone where the orange are fighting the reds. This is a mass of ideas downloaded without much attempt to create an effective narrative. Itís sometimes intriguing, sometimes funny but often irritating. Thereís nothing wrong with the staging or the performances, itís just a work that isnít ready and therefore rather a waste of c.20 performers and the NT technical resources.
Itís almost as if the NT wanted to show us a pair of stage ready plays and a pair that are work-in-progress, because thatís how different they seem to me. A great shame DF 2 didnít live up to the promise of DF 1.
- Gareth James
12 Aug 11
Iíve been a critic of the NTís ability to pick new plays for some time, but based on the first pair in this interesting summer season, the tide might be turning. Theyíve created a Ďpop upí theatre in the paintframe at the back /side of the building with its own bar and a live band pre-show, post-show and during the interval. The benches are a bit uncomfortable and you have to nip next door to the Cottesloe for a pee, but this is their best showcase of new work since they created a theatre box in the Lyttleton circle foyer some time back.
Sam Holcroft has contributed a clever and original play called Edgar & Annabel set in some police state where the opposition is torn between the forthcoming election and more violent opposition. It would be a spoiler to say a lot more. Itís really well structured (though a touch too long) and its performed in a kitchen that looks like itís in a container that (appropriately) makes you feel as if youíre spying on them. It occasionally surprises you and is often funny, but itís ultimately rather chilling.
I missed DC Mooreís much lauded The Empire, but based on his contribution here, I wonít be missing his plays in the future. The Swan is set in a London pub immediately before the wake of Michael, whose father, wife and step-daughter are the characters at the heart of the play. The father misses his sonís funeral, the step-daughter leaves it part way through and the wife turns up just before the other guests. Michael has left a trail of lies and deception and the debate centres on who needs to and who should know. The expletive littered naturalistic dialogue sparkles and the character development extraordinary for a short play. It makes you laugh but youíre also much engaged in the debate. The traverse staging adds an intensity to your involvement. I loved it.
Soutra Gilmour has created two excellent designs and two configurations; its like going to two different theatres. The pub is particularly evocative. In an exceptional cast of 13, Trystan Gravelle captures the political passion of Nick in the first play and Nitin Kundra and Claire-Louise Cordwell a pair of brilliant cameos in the second.
An 8.15pm start and 11pm finish is a bit of a mistake for people with post-theatre journeys and jobs the following morning, but Iím looking forward to the next pairing and very much welcome both the new venue and great new writing. - Gareth James
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