Theatre review: Money Womb, Theatre503

Jon Cottrell as Peter Finch and Asha Reid as Hannah Jessop in Velvet Trumpet's Money Womb

Jon Cottrell as Peter Finch and Asha Reid as Hannah Jessop in Velvet Trumpet’s Money Womb

A darkly comic tale of dreams, failure, love and London

Full marks to the Velvet Trumpet, a small theatre company with big ambitions, who aren’t afraid to be inventive and push against the squeeze on funding and challenge the social status quo that seems to have theatre by its vice like, privileged grip.

After a string of successes, this small production company is staking its claim as “London’s finest comedy theatre company” with its original works all created, directed and performed by this band of south Londoners.

Velvet Trumpet’s latest production is Money Womb, the debut play by “man-in-crisis” Nick Smith playing at Battersea’s Theatre503. This story of one young East Midland’s boy with big dreams and small pockets, is one that many of us can relate to – maybe not the actual content which is gritty and bleak – but certainly the broad outline.

Played with force by Jon Cottrell, Peter Finch leaves his Midlands town behind to search out a future in London, persuading his girlfriend, Hannah Jessop, to follow him. It’s an age old tale, a modern day Dick Whittington, but far from finding the streets paved with gold, Peter discovers a city where the pavements are awash with powder and deceit.

Smith’s smart two-hander, which largely sees Cottrell as Peter directing bitter monologues at the audience as his dreams crumble along with his relationship, capture a London that is bigger than the people who live here. A city that will swallow you if you don’t learn to swim with, rather than against, its force. Peter becomes an increasingly desperate figure as he prowls the stage, snarling at his patient girlfriend and bemoaning his squalid east end flat and lowly status. Are we meant to sympathise with him? Understand him? Maybe not, but there is pathos in the character and Cottrell’s performance.

Asha Reid as Hannah Jessop (who also doubles up as a particularly hard-nosed benefits officer) was a softly spoken counter to Peter’s aggressiveness and I thought she captured the vulnerability and innocence of her character beautifully. Her lovely performance was helped by Hannah being a well-drawn character, a lower-middle class female who wasn’t being judged for her lack of ambition or defined by her sexuality. She was quietly strong-willed without any of the drama that can tip a female character into ‘mad cow’ territory so beloved of many male playwrights.

Perhaps Money Womb runs on a little too long (an interval could have worked) and the over reliance of cocaine as a metaphor for London’s dark heart could have been side-stepped for something more original, but this is a thought-provoking play from a theatre company committed to finding a contemporary voice in London.

Money Womb | Theatre503, Battersea | Until 8 August 2015

Theatre Review: Joy, Etcetera Theatre, Camden

Joy from Velvet Trumpet with Simon Grujich, Jon Cottrell and Thomas Jone

Joy from Velvet Trumpet with Simon Grujich, Jon Cottrell and Thomas Jones

Velvet Trumpet, a South London based theatre company who revel in the dark recesses of humour in everyday life, brought Joy to North London with this production of three bleakly funny monologues.

Written by Thomas Jones (who also doubles as a river cop in this production) and Nikolai Ribnikov each story in Joy is connected only by the deep seam of joylessness that runs through the three men’s stories.

The first monologue, Toast, is how a recently divorced man, now living with his brother, finds comfort in an unlikely place. Breaking down the fourth wall is Michael (Jon Cottrell) who vents at the audience about his frustrations and his flirtations with the mysterious kitchen companion he meets at one of his brother’s party (his reenactment helped out by a handily placed member of the audience).

Next up is Roger (Thomas Jones) in Thames Cop. He’s giving an entirely inappropriate lesson to a bunch of primary kids about life in the Marine Police Unit. His talk is laced with bitterness and resentment, and as he draws to a close we discover why a mix-up on a party boat got him relegated to giving talks to schools rather than fishing tourists out of the Thames. Equally as unfulfilled is Phil (a particularly angry Simon Grujich) in “All Change, All Change” a tube driver whose ramblings over the loudspeaker go beyond “please mind the gap” into a much blacker hole. But is anyone listening?

Well, I certainly was. Joy is a quirky hour-long production that’s bitingly funny and as dark as the tunnels tube driver Phil inhabits. Unable to connect with the world, these men are sad, lonely , socially disenfranchised and awash with self pity. Despite their sad situations, none of them are terribly sympathetic; they are victims of their own self-importance as much as their circumstances. But it’s fun laughing at them.

Joy is not joyful, but it is very funny, the monologues given greater intensity in the small stark space of the Etcetera Theatre. It cuts pretty close to the bone at times and takes us into darker places than the many laughs the pieces get would suggest. It reminded me of early Ian McEwan novels featuring plenty of sexual inadequacy, loneliness with a dose of sordidness and desperation. Joy may not feature any incest that was a feature of McEwan’s 70s work, but Toast and Thames Cop both take sexual turns that Ian would have been proud of. Quirky, dark and a little bit twisted, Joy maybe not be joyful, but it’s a lot of fun.

by Suzanne Elliott

Joy | Velvet Trumpet | More information