Strange Tales From The West Country

This is a pair of shows that Theatre Royal Plymouth have brought to the Southwark Playhouse. I got to see both of them as part of my job. And then got to hang out and chat to all kinds of interesting people afterwards. I’m loving this job so far.

Thoughts on the plays:

The Here and This and Now by Glenn Waldron – Southwark Playhouse

The former editor of i-D magazine, Glenn Waldron is a perfect example of the positive impact of a regional theatre (I’ll bang on about this a lot because I work at one and really believe in the potential of theatres outside of London to make the arts world more diverse and interesting). Waldron is a Plymouth native and his first play (Forever House) was first performed at Theatre Royal Plymouth. Following this, his reputation has grown, leading to productions in London. The Here and This and Now sees him continue his relationship with TRP, first staged in Plymouth last year before the move to London.

The play actually runs continuously, no intervals. The action divides up pretty perfectly into two parts though, which is what I’m talking about when I refer to halves. The Here… features four workers on an office away day, developing their skills delivering a slick, falsely personal sales pitch. Here the dark comedy of the play takes the fore, with particularly strong performances from Andy Rush and Becci Gemmell. In a familiar and bleak office with grim grey carpets (strong design from Bob Bailey – a world evocative of every miserable office you’ve ever worked in, but never as dull to look at) we also see our sales team involved in frenetic and bizarre team building exercises, the unease created by this hinting at the sucker punch second half to come.

The second half is where the piece really hits its stride, skipping to a future where the very drugs these pharmaceutical reps push have had dire consequences. Antibiotic resistance has allowed a new illness to devastate society. Focussing on Helen (Becci Gemmell) and Niall (Simon Darwen), we are now presented with how far desperate people will go, no matter how timid they may seem. Gemmell again shines, highlighting both the humour and the horror of the situation. I won’t give too much away but it’s a gripping end. And while the tone of the play has definitely shifted, moments of the same dark humour tie it to the previous half.

An interesting piece from an emerging writing talent, with a great performance from Becci Gemmell.

 

The War Has Not Yet Started by Mikhail Durnenkov – Southwark Playhouse

Much like Glenn Waldron’s The Here and This and Now, The War Has Not Yet Started began its life at Theatre Royal Plymouth before transferring to the Southwark for a run there. Written by Russian playwright Durnenkov, the play features twelve short tales. I initially was trying to find the common characters and link them together, something you should avoid doing if you see the play, as there are in fact no links. They are all short snapshots of life, self-contained. The sections vary in tone, some more comedic than others, but all make for interesting viewing. Music is played between each piece as the stage is altered, which helps get a feel for what the tone of each one will be. All three cast members delivered strong performances, with each being given ample chance to demonstrate their varied talents. Hannah Britland and Mark Quartly did particularly well in a section dealing with an abused wife, while Sara Hadland showcased her comedic strengths.

While each story is different in tone, they all share a sense of unease or discomfort with modern life. It’s different to anything I’ve seen in a long time and its structure allows a broad viewing experience. Not every story was to my tastes but the variety meant it didn’t matter too much. It held my attention throughout and is well worth seeing.

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