Thursday, March 13, 2014

"The weirdest art form ever created"

Philip Ridley is a highly acclaimed young playwright and this Supporting Wall production of Dark Vanilla Jungle won awards and garlands of stars for performance last year in Edinburgh so, as this tour included Bristol's Brewery, this was a must-see for me. "A beautiful, breathtaking new drama about one girl’s craving for family and home… and the lengths she’ll go to achieve them," is the flyer summary, and there's not much more to be said about her story without making this monologue sound bleak, which it is not. It's vividly rich in imagination and language, startlingly poetic and from time to time darkly funny. From an empty stage, Andrea advances to 'tell the truth', starting with a wasp sting.  It's about being groomed and commodification of women and the invisibility of lost children in problem families, but the telling is as far from 'worthy' as a Shakespeare. Gemma Whelan's Andrea is utterly mesmerising, embodying her story as both child and teenager, evoking tenderness, passion, panic and fury as innocence is dragged from her and longings for love disintegrate. Contemporary realism and fantasy of mythic promotion merge in this masterly must-see play, which is in Bristol till 22nd March and then goes on to Soho Theatre. Fantastic script, utterly fabulous performance. And next time someone swears at you in the street remember, as Plato first said, they may be fighting a battle you know nothing about.

The Big Meal, the first of three plays in the new Theatre Royal Bath American season at Ustinov Studio Bath, is a 90-minute time-lapse study of the 80-year relationship of a couple who meet in a restaurant, moving from flirting to intimacy in moments, followed swiftly by hatches, mismatches, and dispatches through three generations. Writer Dan LeFranc knows his settings well so in one sense the story is realistic, but he believes playwrights should explore obsessions, quirks and nightmares, mining the strangest, truest parts of yourself...  the play is the weirdest art form ever created.  This one is certainly quirky. It's directed by Michael Boyd and the roles are played progressively by an excellent cast of eight, with Diana Quick and Keith Bartlett particularly impressive. As you'd expect the focus is on meal times: events are mostly uber-normal but clever compression of timescale and sharp script give plenty of food for thought as well as a lingering taste of poignancy. Expect also a lot of shouting, and an unexpected dramatic device that I can't spoiler-reveal, but it's very effective.  The Big Meal is on in Bath till 5th April and then goes to co-producers High Tide Festival in Suffolk from 10th-19th April.

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