Manor oh Manor

Written for The Public Reviews

Martin Murphy is clearly a man obsessed with the shady goings on of East End gangsters.  But whilst there are some flashes of lyricism in this piece, Manor is for the most part an aggressively male dominated play that bludgeons the audience around the head with its often incomprehensible monologues and glorification of ‘geezer culture’.   Unless you’re as enamoured with the Krays as Murphy is, you’re going to be in for a very long evening.

Characters reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s creations, only not quite as knowingly funny, circle each other within their ‘Manor’ or ‘gaff’. We have Stud, a petrifying yet stylish psychopath who runs a mini empire of doormen, Man, the overweight balding comic relief and owner of one such ‘gaff’ and Joe, whose boyish wide-eyed innocence hides a much darker destiny than he could have imagined.  Sadly it’s one that the audience can see coming a mile off.  When he and girlfriend Kel get caught by Stud doing coke and the apple of his eye is brutally mistreated (eyes being the operative word, Kel seems to captivate everyone through nothing but her steely glare) it is obvious what is going to happen.

Perhaps in an attempt to mix up this predictability Murphy’s structure jumps to and from the present to the past, imitating the fast paced rhythm of the aforementioned Ritchie.  Sadly this isn’t a film, and the space at The Tristan Bates Theatre is too small for this overblown production, the lights are too slow for the intentioned snaps to black, and the actors can’t get to their starting points due to slightly bemused audience members sat on each side of the stage.  Whilst one can clearly see what director James Kermack was trying to do there just simply isn’t enough room, meaning movement goes from slick to stumble.

The cast battle valiantly within their roles, and no one could say that they’re not trying to make this work.  But whilst Stephen Pucci creates some nice details to his central anti-hero and James Kermack succeeds in raising a smile or two throughout this long dark process, it really is a struggle for them to create any kind of live interaction either with each other or the audience.  Elspeth Rae as Kel has the embarrassing role of literally being nothing but the eye candy, with each attitude filled pose more clichéd than the last and no lines within the text at all; there is no room for women in this world it would seem, unless they are gangster’s molls.

But it’s not only the upsetting (probably unintentional but undeniably present) misogyny that bothers in Manor.  The question at the heart of this piece is why tell this story at all? Presupposing that you will inherently be interested in this fairytale world of gangster tussles is a dangerous game and one that seriously backfires here.  So whilst it’s not all bad, with funny moments and poetic sentences peppering the harshness, they become buried under a dated obsession which is Manor’s downfall. As the minutes tick by and the tirade of angry monologues just increases, it sadly feels like this is a show which is little but a big dollop of cockney sound and fury.

Runs until 3rd April

The Best Of The Rest 2010

We all know the big un’s to watch out for in the first few months of 2010; Red, currently running at the Donmar Warehouse, the West End transfers of Enron and Jerusalem, Peter Brook at The Barbican which also houses the eclectic Bite Season for 2010 and work by the legendary Pina Bausch, Trilogy at The BAC and of course the London International Mime Festival.

But what about the smaller venues – not just the BAC’s or The Riverside Studios’ who consistently punch above their weight, but the truly off-piste theatres – The Blue Elephant Theatre, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern and The Cock Tavern to name but a few.  Unlike the big theatres these small houses can only programme up to 3-6 months so no need to book miles in advance – these are things you can see in the very near future so check your pre-planned nature at the door and get a little trigger happy.

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Hello! And the first review of 2010

So….you kinda know what I’m going to say – there was no ‘The Best of 2009′ which in a way is sad because it means I didn’t get to mention It Felt Like A Kiss, Mother Courage, Found In The Ground, Kristen Schall and Kurt Braunohler, Spring Awakening or Cat On A Hat Tin Roof.  But on the other hand it’s always nice to start with something new – and so along with a preview of the New Year and a deeply heartfelt blog on identity in theatre – here is the first review of 2010.  A suitably tub thumping endeavour, LADS is a very pleasant way to start the New Year.

Written for What’s On Stage 09/01/10

In the land of fair Wetherspoons, four rowdy Knights of the Pub Table share their stories of beautiful (if a bit drunken) maidens and battles between (brawling) brothers. Flying under the stylistic banner of the distinctive Steven Berkoff, their tale is a full on ‘wham bam thank you mam’ production, with grotesque physicalization taking centre stage.

Jobless, Actless, Faithless and Dependable, otherwise known as Nick, Jimmy, Paul and Rich are four disparate youths bound inextricably together through the ties of friendship. Whilst heading out for a night on the tiles, they encounter all of the usual obnoxious suspects whilst embarking on a huge amount of drinking – so a standard night out in London then.

But this is not to say that this is a standard piece. Raucous and bombastic LADS is an exhilarating ride, not to mention hugely funny. Writer and director James Kermack’s spot on observations are extended into sharply crafted and theatricalised moments of chorography. The energy of his direction carries you away on the whirlwind of affectionately mundane excitement that everyone feels at the promise of a night out on the town with your pals.

Our four lads are played with great verve by Geoff Breton, Drummond Bowskill, Josh Boyd Rochford and Danny John Noonan. As they embody the rabble that these boys encounter we see greasy bosses and nasal gaggles of girls float caustically in front of our eyes. As they banter with one another the brotherly bond that ties these four Knights together is tangibly there.

Of the four it is Bowskill who steals scenes however, giving a comedy performance that would rival that of all the great buffoons. Infinitely charming Bowskill seems to sit more within a Commedia Dell Arte tradition than the Berkoff that surrounds him.

As with the autocratic Mr Berkoff however, in the midst of all this revelry it all gets a bit much. This company are forcefully leading their audience by the hand instead of inviting us to follow them and awkwardly, at points, it feels a little like an edition of Nuts with the agony aunt page at the end.

But even if Kermack falls down in the more naturalistic scenes, LADS is still a textured and confident piece of theatre which shows the emergence of a strong talent. Shakespeare it’s not, but for pure balls out entertainment, LADS is guaranteed to blow away the January doldrums.

Runs until 23rd January 2010. For more details go to the Canal Cafe Theatre