Tag Archives: gay play

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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Review: Next Fall (Southwark Playhouse, London)

Martin Delaney (left) and Charlie Condou (right). Photograph: Robert Workman.

Martin Delaney (left) and Charlie Condou (right). Photograph: Robert Workman.

Rating: ****

In A Nutshell

A beautifully sardonic and heart-shattering piece, written from a place of love, humanity, and anguish.

Overview

Adam and Luke have been together for five years. Adam is in his 40s and an aetheists, whilst Luke, much younger, is a Christian and still in the closet to his parents. Their life has always been one of compromise where they’ve failed to reach an understanding, but tenderness in the close affinity that they can. But when an accident happens to Luke, Adam Is forced to face and rely upon a family who are less than accepting of homosexuality, and have no idea who he is and what he means to Luke.

Writing

Geoffrey Nauffts’ play was nominated for “Best Play” at the Tony Awards 2010, and now see’s it transfer to London four years later. One of the reasons for its success is it’s incredibly satisfying dry wit which permeates the entire piece. However, for those who are well versed in gay plays and other LGBT arts productions, especially issues surrounding religion vs. sexuality, there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking in the themes and arguments that many will have heard before. So whilst the humour is certainly entertaining and extremely sharp, the first act just feels a little too familiar.

However, it’s in Act II that the play really comes into it’s own. Whilst Nauffts might not be offering much with regards to new point and counterpoint to the subject, it’s how he uses the characters to frame the issues discussed that is the real triumph of the play. For starters, Nauffts’ characters are all substantially flawed. You can never quite get behind Adam as a protagonist as, although long suffering, he’s more unlikeable than likeable. Likewise, Butch, the Bible-thumping alpha heterosexual patriarch, is not all he seems, causing us to think and rethink what prejudices we ourselves are judging him by.

What this results in is, rather than a greying of the arguments’ clarities, Nauffts’ blurs the emotional lines on the subject. There is no distinct binary of how we should be feeling and thinking here that would otherwise serve as an simple catharsis or a shallow rally-call for an established campaign. But instead we get a difficult and challenging walkthrough of the issues where there aren’t any easy hero or villain figures. Because of this, the show, as well as being marvellously humorous, is also achingly moving. The characters feel very real and, despite their faults, you still deeply care for them. But also, the show is frustratingly realistic. You just want the characters to scream and kick-off, leaving Adam and Luke to emerge victors and live their happily-ever-after. Nauffts, however, settles for a reality. Though painful and despondent as it is, it ultimately leaves you with as much poignancy and anger as it does sore sides and wet cheeks.

Mitchell Mullen (left) and Nancy Crane (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Robert Workman.

Mitchell Mullen (left) and Nancy Crane (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Robert Workman.

Direction & Production

The production sits very cosily in the smaller theatre space at the Southwark Playhouse but loses nothing despite the fact that it could probably have just as easily filled the main space. David Woodhead’s set wonderfully feels homely enough to be a minimalistic and sleek New York apartment, but just clinical enough to double as an unforgiving and soulless hospital waiting area: a wonderfully agile duality.

The most interesting aspect of the production, however, is how Director Luke Sheppard and lighting designer Howard Hudson work together to bring out some nice little touches. When it comes to scene changes, whilst the other cast start to move and replace props, there’s a spot that lingers on the central character of the scene, just as they do. This  creates an omnipresent feeling of lingering and detachment from what’s going on, and really augments the strife that the characters go through both past and present within the story. This marks Sheppard out as a director who clearly empathises with the piece, endeavouring to give the issues and the feelings involved prominence and justice.

Cast

Charlie Condou, most famous for his role in Coronation Street, is the main draw here, especially as an openly gay actor and parent. But whilst he handles himself well, it’s the rest of the cast that really deserve the praise. Condou’s on-stage counterpart, Luke, played by Martin Delaney, is adorably charismatic and carefree, playing up to his character’s youthful naivety with a wonderful sense of grace. Indeed, he’s the perfect antidote to Condou’s fretful and self-absorbed Adam, and the pair’s chemistry is the most electric when their relationships is most strained. However, they’re still still able to conjure a sweet cuteness for their happier and more intimate times together that is comfortably numbing, making all the more for a heart-wrenching tragedy.

Mitchell Mullen as Butch also deserves a mention as he superbly growls and spits as Luke’s close-minded and zealot father, but letting the audience peep through chinks into something that is more scared and vulnerable rather than completely proud and despotic. Likewise, Nancy Crane’s Southern charm as Butch’s wife, Arlene, slowly cracks in a majestic and tender fashion, as a warm and repentant woman trying hard to atone and keep it together for all her past faults.

Verdict

Whilst the writing is of a familiar set of ideas and arguments, Nauffts’ characters and emotional framing makes for a crushing and human play. With wonderful directional flourishes, and a stunning cast, you’ll be hard pressed to fight back both laughter and tears.

[youtube http://youtu.be/9M-ANbinLd4]

Next Fall plays at the Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1 6BD, until 25 October 2014. Tickets are £18 (concessions available). To book, visit http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk.