Friday, October 07, 2011

"Tea on the lawn. What could be more normal than that?"
Theatre West's autumn season of new writing inspired by locational photographs under the umbrella title Picture This has opened at Alma Tavern Theatre with The Darkroom by Steve Lambert. The play's title is both literally a place where secrets on film are revealed and metaphorically the murky recesses of human minds, individually and culturally. It's 1949 and all three characters hold sinister secrets from their wartime past which will blitz the fragile semblance of calm as one by one they are relentless detonated. In fact that's the main problem: the play effectively evokes the emotional austerity of post-war England, superficially subdued but seething with unresolved trauma, but a determination to include so many dark revelations ultimately overloaded the plot with twists at the expense of character empathy. Duncan Bonner as William brought stature and gravitas to the role of the double-agent who re-enters a troubled marital relationship to stir up the past; the production was directed with sensitivity by Pameli Benham.

Countryboy's Struggle at the Merlin, devised and performed by Maxwell Golden is the most exciting theatre I've seen for a long time. Maxwell opens the show as hi-energy MC Vibe-wire, setting the scene with clever free-styling (and a chance for local poets too - Muriel Lavender and I were both immensely thrilled to find ourselves adding verisimilitude to his open-mic sequence) before introducing us to hip-hop rapper 'Countryboy' Michael. Then the journey of his struggle begins - with a wonderfully lyrical poem from the womb - taking us confidently and with amazing emotional range through childhood, teens, family disputes, and adventures in London, right up to the club night we've all been sharing from the start.
It's an extraordinary tour de force, electrifying, and very varied, individual sequences which combine into the credible story of an immensely likeable young man. Maxwell's uses postures & gestures with skillful minimalism to create Michael's life through childhood, rites of adolescent passage, family conflict, and his naive first experiences of London. He's rarely alone - we meet his teenage mates in multiple roles playing Simpsons, and his rose-tinted arrival in London is vocalised & actualised through a landscape of Big Ben, pigeons, pushers, dossers & South Bank skaters until he meets his - slightly Spaced - flatmates. Simple set and clever lighting, using Michael's own vastly magnified shadow to show his relationship with his father, combine with brilliant sound track and Maxwell Golden's mesmeric and unforgettable performance to make this a must-see show. It's touring southwest now, moving up north later. Check out tour dates and hire a charabanc for your friends!

Footling footnote of the week: ever wondered which were the officially funniest gags at the Edinburgh fringe this year? Here it comes:
3: People say "I'm taking one day at a time." So is everybody. That's how time works. (Hannibal Buress)
2: Crime in multi-storey car parks - that is wrong on so many different levels. (Tim Vine)
1: I needed a password of 8 characters so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. (Nick Helm)
Nick says his Dad is chuffed about the Dave award - it was his joke.

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