Theatre review: Reunion and Dark Pony, John Harvard Library, SE1

Celebrate Libraries Week (9 – 14 October) with sombre, but touching father/daughter dynamics 

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David Schaal and Siu-see Hung in Dark Pony

Public libraries have always been about more than books. They have laid at the heart of many communities since their inception, designed to inspire, educate, engage and thrill. In recent years, they have become increasingly squeezed and compromised as budgets are slashed and their role questioned. So what better way to celebrate Libraries Week than show what they can be and turn these silent spaces into a stage. After all, libraries and theatres share the same currency: stories.

Baseless Fabric Theatre are a site-specific theatre and opera company that create work in public spaces to encourage people to see art forms and their local public spaces in new ways. As part of National Libraries Week, they have chosen two David ‘American Buffalo’ Mamet short plays (at seven minutes, Dark Pony is a slip of a piece), both sparse enough to lend themselves well to the space between the bookshelves (it helps that John Harvard Library has a coffee shop where Reunion, the night’s first performance, takes place).

The American playwright and scriptwriter is firmly in Richard Ford and Richard Yates territory where the all-American family is revealed to be less picket fence, more prison wall. Reunion, Mamet’s 1976 two-hander features a meeting between a father and his daughter, now (unhappily) married and a step-mother, who have been separated for nearly a lifetime. Through Mamet’s hyper-realistic dialogue that is both awkward yet precise, even lyrical at times, the characters’ attempt to find those lost years. Bernie, a reformed alcoholic, has largely found peace with himself, contemplating a third marriage and content with his job in a restaurant kitchen. He dominates the meeting, explaining his life and his mistakes through some amusing anecdotes. His daughter struggles more under the weight of his absence, her future also promising little. But while they may not walk off into the sunset, the pair do find some kind of equilibrium between the past and the present.

Dark Pony is a bitesized sketch where a father tells a favourite bedtime story to his young daughter as they drive home late at night – the story of a young native American brave and his trusty horse, Dark Pony. It’s sweet, although so fleeting it doesn’t have time to crawl under your skin.

David Schaal as Bernie and the book-reading father captures the right kind of wide-eyed intensity, reeling from his hard life and the mistakes he’s made, desperate for a fresh start. And you can almost hear Siu-see Hung’s (Carol and the young daughter) internal struggle, as she tries to find the words to put her life into focus.

Reunion and Dark Pony | Various library locations in London | Until 15 October 2018

 

 

 

 

 

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Theatre review: A Nazi Comparison, Waterloo East Theatre

A PR student turns anti-capitalist warrior in this bold but uneven delve into media lies and government hypocrisy

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Craft Theatre’s A Nazi Comparision at Waterloo East Theatre

 

There is no doubt a need for more people to be angry and engaged with the wild inequality and injustice in the world. There is also no doubt that there is a need for art – and theatre in particular – to question the atrocities committed by the West that go unchallenged in the media. A Nazi Comparison makes a stab at being that play.

It’s a brave production that certainly doesn’t lack heart, but it’s too uneven and disjointed, too reliant on melodrama, to be entirely convincing.

The play spins around Clare (Louise Goodfield), who is introduced to right-on ideas when she is forced to get out of her taxi and walk through a Grenfell Tower protest that has blocked her way. Here she meets Craig (Craig Edgeley), the worst kind of lefty guy, hiding a selfish, narcissistic personality behind Ideas. Clare is enthralled – whether to Craig or the cause is unclear – and soon she’s telling her mum she doesn’t understand her and dropping out of university.

Her conversion to the left is cemented when her teacher lends her a copy of Shalateger by Hanns Johst, the Poet Laureate to the Third Reich (the play was dedicated to Adolf Hitler) in which Clare can’t help but see strong parallels in how the media was manipulated then and how it is now.

A Nazi Comparison throws every anti-capitalist, left-leaning cliché into the mix and rather ties itself in knots by doing so. There is a good story in there somewhere, but it’s rather lost in the production’s attempt to give everything. The (semi-improvised?) dialogue wasn’t punchy enough to lift the play out of hackneyed territory, and the production was cluttered with several unnecessary scenes that distracted, including a couple of tonally off message physical theatre set pieces.

The media – the current en vogue whipping boy – gets a beating – not necessarily undeserved – in fact one of the play’s highlights is a PowerPoint presentation that discusses the press’ bias against Jeremy Corbyn. But to make such a bold statement comparing Western governments and the media to Thirties Germany, you need to have your argument tightly presented. Goodfield as Clare did a good job of oscillating between student and angry squat dweller, her UCL speech well-delivered and stimulating. And the material Craft Theatre and writer Rocky Rodriguez are tackling is noble in its scale. The company provides a detailed dossier supporting the content of the play and there’s no doubt the material is shocking and thought-provoking.

But despite the enthusiasm and boldness of the cast, the threads this production began were left unravelled.

A Nazi Comparison | Waterloo East Theatre | Until 29 October 2017