My London stopover from Skyros on Saturday gave me the chance to reconnect with a bit of theatre - a double dose in fact. First, a matinee: Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang at Islington's Hen & Chickens pub theatre. Six smart, silly, New Yorkers at the height of the 80s therapy fad, all seeking fulfillment - or at least a waiter. The script is brilliantly funny in a way that's more screwball than sardonic, and the cast gave performances so polished you could see your face in them. High eye-candy factor among Theatre Six too, especially gorgeous Prudence (Heather Gibbs) exploring her traumas through restaurants and consulting rooms where the analysts are crazier than the clients and even the waiter - when he finally shows - is a psycho.
And then to Camberwell for Stairway to Heaven at the Blue Elephant, written by Steve Hennessy and directed by Chris Loveless, with Matt Ward (my angel-vampire in Love Bites) performing. So I had at least three reasons to want to see this tale of ancient Egypt where a team of Pyramid builders struggle with the hardships of work, wrangling, bullying, and the existential question: what's it all for? Among the brutal, often gory, events of their daily lives, what emerges is the irrepressible human need for some kind of religion which can answer - or at least muffle - that timeless uncertainty, at whatever cost. The actors, especially Matt who brought charisma to the role of Geb the bluff joker, were all strong and the set effectively evoked a working landscape both surreal and claustrophobic. And if I'd had more than 4 hours sleep in the previous 39 hours, I'd be able to give a more coherent appreciation.
Back in Bristol: Red Shift brought their brief 2-hander The Fall of Man to the Tobacco Factory's tiny annexe The Brewery, made an even more intimate space as seating was crowded close to the set, a bed on and around which all the action takes place. The story focuses on a difficult, acrimonious more than passionate, affair between Peter and his children's au pair. There's torrid, uncomfortable, sex and there's tears before bedtime, but what elevates this way above ordinary sleaziness is the grandeur of the text - Milton's text, in fact. Amid the self-justifying and complaining of their contemporary voices, writer Jonathan Holloway splices in Paradise Lost, and lo! it works. It really works. Self-tempted, self-depraved, the pair of them, but Natalie Jones as Slovenian Veronica is so lovely it's difficult to blame her boss for pulling off his Pringle pants and attempting things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme... All the more powerful as we the audience were in their face, practically in their bed, the whole time, voyeurs to their blowjobs and their belligerence. Unforgettable theatre, brave and beautiful.
Local writer Rachel Ward launched Numbers 2: The Chaos at Waterstones in Bath on Tuesday. It's a sequel to her brilliant debut novel Numbers, marketed for teens but straddling the adult market - it's currently on the best-selling list in France, and picking up awards all over the place. Rachel's first step to publication was sending the opening section to the Frome Festival Short Story competition and Alison and I both loved it, so have felt somewhat proprietorial ever since. Chaos picks up the story sixteen years later and is, her publisher tells us, a fast-paced thriller with deep and thought-provoking undercurrents. Numbers 3 is on the way too.