Theatre Review: Tom & Jerry: A Love Story (Drayton Arms Theatre, London)

A cat and mouse game! Denholm Spurr (left) as Tom, and Pearce Sampson (right) as Jerry.

A cat and mouse game! Denholm Spurr (left) as Tom, and Pearce Sampson (right) as Jerry.

Rating: ****

In A Nutshell

Tender and truthful with some great writing, lifting what is otherwise something too familiar.

Overview

Tom meets Jed in a club. Tom is straight laced and prim, whilst Jed is hyperactive, self-absorbed, and queeny. However, after a bump and a spill, they end up in an unlikely relationship. But can domestic bliss endure their clash of personalities?

Writing

This new piece by Nick Myles is not exactly original, in the sense that there are already countless plays looking at how opposites attract as well as repel. However, even if the narrative doesn’t break any new ground, you forget the familiarities of such a tale due to some marvellous writing.

For starters, Myles explores the issues with an absorbing level of intelligence and truth. His characters, their thoughts and their feelings, clearly come from a very real and heartfelt place, giving the play a tangible humanity. Particularly, he proves that you can include stereotypical characters without them coming across at two-dimensional. Even Jed, with all the mincing irritation that his shallow persona embodies, is still a vulnerable, responsive, and feeling character. You may be able to see where the story is going, but nether the less you’re still intrigue by the nuance and personality that Myles writes with.

Furthermore, there are some wonderful little moments where Myles employs his writing technically. At one point, he creates a wonderful moment toying with of distance and closeness. At the apex of the relationship, he has the characters recount the day it all fell apart, taking turn individuals talking directly to the audience, which wonderfully isolates themselves from each other through the text, despite director Niall Phillips creating a physical closeness they have on the stage: a wonderful visual and atmospheric contrast that lifts the already emotional opening up of the characters. There’s also moments when he toys with inner-dialogue to peek into the psyches of the characters as they interact, ensuring the audience don’t take away everything at face value.

The only other criticism aside from originality, is that Myles takes a bit too long to explore the issues sometimes, causing some moments to drag, especially where there’s an absence of the little dramatic tricks he employs elsewhere. It’s clear that Myles wants to explore the issues and feelings he’s meticulously dissecting as fully as possible. But the tenderness that comes across from the writing, even in these lulls the slower pacing, is by no means a negative trade off for a text that so easily and earnestly resonates with anyone who’s ever been in a failed relationship.

Direction & Production

Phillips works wonders with very little by means of space and set. Opting to not use the generous (if not awkward) space of the Drayton Arms Theatre doesn’t mean that it looses anything. There’s certainly enough space for the cast to interact with each other and tell the story, and enough simple props to create the various scenes and places.

As well as little embellishments that augment Myles’ writing (such as the aforementioned physically placing the characters close together when they’re at their most distant), Phillips handles scene changes in a wonderful way too: as the characters set up the props, they move and interact to tells succinctly and charmingly the emotions and story of the time inbetween. The problem is that some of them go on just a bit too long, overstaying the point and the picture that they’re trying to make/paint. Otherwise, it adds a wonderful sense of continuity to Mile’s play, whilst visually colouring the characters beyond what the text already says about them.

There is also a very natural approach to the text too. Phillips isn’t worried about actors talking over each other or forcedly interrupting a sentence during an argument or excited discussion due to being caught up in the heat of the moment. It gives the whole play an even more realistic charm that helps us to identify with the characters more. The cast handle this approach incredibly well too, but always without drowning each other out or drawing undue dominance. It creates a believable insight into what could be a very real relationship, and were it for the fact you know this is a play, you’d swear that actors Pearce Sampson and Denhlom Spurr were a real life ill-fated couple.

Cast

Both Sampson and Spurr handle their characters effortlessly organically. Sampson especially manages to bring a human depth to a character who is otherwise monstrously superficial in nature. Spurr is also great at exploiting the cracks in his character’s uptight veneer to reveal some touching repressed emotions. But it’s the chemistry between them that is most interesting to watch. Even at their most intimate, there’s always a sense of distance, and likewise, when there’s distance between them, there’s still a simmer of passion and longing that draws them together: a picture-perfect capture of Tom and Jed’s dynamic.

Verdict

A warm and affecting look at when love doesn’t go the way it should when personalities clash, with writing that carries and intrigues in a narrative that you that doesn’t necessarily offer anything too new.

[youtube http://youtu.be/y3yaHBZrmZs]

Tom & Jerry: A Love Story was performed at the Drayton Arms Theatre, SW5 0LJ.

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