Theatre review: Glass Roots, Tristan Bates theatre

A sharply observed slice of social drama that examines racism and class

GLASS ROOTS by Alexander Matthews. Photo by Rory Lindsay (95)

Glass Roots by Alexander Matthews.

Glass Roots is the second play by writer and philosopher Alexander Matthews to be staged as part of the playwright’s debut season at the Tristan Bates Theatre, a hidden gem of a studio in Covent Garden.

While Matthews’ previous play at the Tristan Bates, Screaming Secrets, explored ruptured families and dark generational dishonesty, Glass Roots steps outside the front door and takes a look at wider societal fractures.

Glass Roots puts racism under the microscope, particularly in its relation to class. Thila (Natalie Perera) and her husband Sadjit (Kal Sabir) run an Indian restaurant in an unnamed – and largely unloved – part of south London. Sadjit is a reluctant waiter, writing poetry in-between serving chicken tikka masalas and beef madras. Thila,  his hardworking wife, is exasperated by his Byronic dreams as she juggles the more prosaic side of life. Their marriage is fractured, held back by unrealised dreams.

One of their regular customers is Celia (Victoria Broom) who has tonight brought along Rupert (Ben Warwick) on, what I took to be a first date – the kind of first date you dine out on for years to come – and not with the person you shared it with. They argue over their differing approaches to what Rupert (not the subtlest of names for a posho barrister ) describes as the ‘servant’ before veering into the subject of race. 

But before they can start throwing poppadoms at each other, the evening is interrupted by two racist thugs, Diesel (Mitchell Fisher) and Spaceman (Sam Rix) who sneer and threaten Celia and Rupert until they flee (coatless) leaving Sajit and Thila to fight off  racist abuse on their own.

In the middle of this storm Sajit and Thila are concerned only with the fate of their marriage. As they face the barrage of racial abuse, their focus isn’t on the spitting, bullying white boys in front of them, but on their future. When the men leave, it’s not the ordeal the couple discuss, but how they can make each other happy. It’s Thila who stands up to them fuelled, it appeared by a fury that felt provoked by boredom.

Glass Roots isn’t a theatrical game-changer. It never really answers the questions it asks, but it’s a taut, likeable play with largely sharp performances (the odd bout of  ‘hand acting’ aside). Sabir and Perera give particularly fine, controlled performances as the central couple who give the production a heart.

Glass Roots | Tristan Bates Theatre | Until 24 March 2018

Dance review: Macbeth, Wilton’s Music Hall

A haunting, gripping dance adaptation of Shakespeare’s sinister masterpiece

Jonathan Goddard and Eleanor Duval as the Macbeths

Jonathan Goddard and Eleanor Duval as the Macbeths.

Dancing to Shakespeare may sound a bit like dancing to architecture, to (badly) paraphrase a famous phrase, but in the hands of the fantastic Mark Bruce Company, one of the bard’s greatest – and bloodiest – plays becomes a piece of absorbing and captivating art in its own right.

Macbeth lends itself well to dance, the inner turmoil of a man and his wife willing to commit regicide to be king and queen of Scotland, create an energy that is both powerful yet intimate. Unearthing the hidden meaning behind what drives this ambitious couple to commit murder in order to get their bloody hands on the crown has long fascinated directors, and in this production their angst, greed and lust for power. and their subsequent all-consuming guilt, seems even more stark.

From gentle beginnings grows a performance of great drama and passion. Bold, clever lighting washes the stage in blood-red and casts a banquet in stunning aspic, while well-placed symbols create a brooding atmosphere as the score – largely comprised of Arvo Pärt’s multi-layered music – enhances without smothering. But as sharp as the visual spectacle is, it’s the power of the dance that brings Shakespeare’s words to life.

The choreography is wonderfully realised, with every hand gesture and head turn revealing the characters’ passion and emotions. Shakespeare’s big scenes are all there: there’s the dagger and Lady Macbeth’s hand-wringing; a sinister reactment of the witches’ prophesy of Banquo’s descendants long rule over Scotland, and the banquet scene where the murdered Banquo haunts Macbeth with a terrifying intensity.

Jonathan Goddard as the titular character reveals Macbeth’s ruthlessness alongside a vulnerability – this is a man who seems aghast at his own capacity for murder, astonished at his lust for power. But, as with so many Macbeths, it’s Lady Macbeth who draws the eye. Eleanor Duval is wonderful in the role, a hugely captivating dancer who conveys the character’s steely-eyed ambition and her descent into madness with an incredible force, recreating Shakespeare’s words with compelling charisma. Together the two dancers are beguiling and compelling – this is a couple who are destined to rule.

Mark Bruce Company’s Macbeth | Wilton’s Music Hall | Until 17 March 2018