(Not a) review: Chris Thompson’s A Film About Someone You Love, at Finborough theatre, part of Vibrant 2014 festival

Vibrant Festival Finborough 2014It hardly comes as a surprise that Chris Tompson’s play A Film About Someone You Love is, well, about love. But there is a catch. Not cuddly love, or even destructive one, but rather distortive. Love as a distorting mirror and a puzzle and an unreliable narrator. Which is bad news if your sense of self depends on love offered, accepted, received. Which it does. For everyone. Why is it so much easier to rely on cruel lies than on muddled truths?

The play is fairly single-minded in pursuing its subject and turning the focus on different kinds of love: friends, siblings, lovers, couples, mothers and daughters. It’s a testament to both play and staging that two hours of people talking and stumbling around the most tender (if absurd) corners of their lives never got boring. The tone is finely judged and recklessly engaging: everyone’s truths are both ridiculous and dangerous around the edges. So are their lies. There isn’t a dividing line between comedy and tragedy, in fact comedy is a tragedy that is having a nervous breakdown. The staging was equally confident, led by rich silences and tense pauses.

Doon Machichan’s Sophie Batten, mother of two daughters, has the brittle determination of the survivor, when everything is very funny until it’s not. Joanna Horton’s Ellie Batten had a difficult opaque quality, the more direct her approach the less transparent her heart. Shannon Tarbet as Lea Batten was formidably unpleasant and fragile in the same breath. Ashley Zhangazha’s Monday was profoundly and hilariously bewildered by his reaction to his own life.

My favourite character was Adam, as played by Felix Scott. Continue reading

Review: Polly Stenham’s Hotel at the Temporary theatre (previously known as The Shed), National Theatre

Shannon Tarbet as Frankie and Tom Rhys Harries as Ralph. Photo Kwame Lestrade

Shannon Tarbet as Frankie and Tom Rhys Harries as Ralph. Photo Kwame Lestrade

Some people object to Polly Stenham’s plays because she often keeps a narrow focus on familial – if not always familiar – dynamics. I am not one of those people. Her characters – insolent, poetic, unapologetically confused – don’t give in. But you give into them.

Nevertheless her new play Hotel breaks new thematic territory. This isn’t always obvious and it’s not always smooth. Contradictory themes don’t so much blend but crash into each other with considerable force. I hesitate to expand for fear of spoilers but let’s say betrayal, accountability, consequences, violence and international aid all come into focus. Much of the play is not what it seems. Much of life is not what it seems.

With a running time of 80 minutes, the story gallops at a breathless pace. Maria Aberg’s direction keeps it on track, quite an achievement as often the play feels like a stampede. I admire Stenham’s lack of restraint and bold moral approach but she doesn’t go deep enough on any of her themes. She opens doors but lets them flapping in the wind. I would have been happy to hear any of her stories. When the adrenaline buzz settled, I could hear none.

The play was at its brilliant best in character moments: Continue reading

Review: Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn – Hampstead theatre

Shannon Tarbet (Avery), Polly Adams (Alice) and Emilia Fox (Catherine). Photo Alastair Muir

Shannon Tarbet (Avery), Polly Adams (Alice) and Emilia Fox (Catherine). Photo Alastair Muir

Gina Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw was a popular and a critical success at the Almeida in 2011, so a new play by her, a play about women, their choices, their desires, their stumblings and recalibrations, felt like an exciting prospect. Therefore, it saddens me to say “Rapture, Blister, Burn”, directed by Peter DuBois in the main stage of the Hampstead theatre, is overall a disappointment.

Much of the problem is with the dramatic structure of the play, or lack of it. Two thirds are spent setting the scene, with hardly any plot development. Continue reading