It doesn’t seem to be hurting the Downstairs season at The Hampstead that they’ve imposed a no press policy. The place was packed last night for the extended run of And No More Shall We Part, a powerful example of word of mouth taking the glory. There really is nothing more viral than a good piece of theatre which moves an audience…we should all probably remember that.
I’ve been moved to write about it anyway, even though the run has ended and I went in a personal capacity. Because what I wanted to say about it couldn’t be wrapped up into a 140 characters for once.
And No More Shall We Part gutted me; to say it shifted my world perception is not, entirely, hyperbole. For 80 minutes I and the people next to me and on stage shared a space of emotional intimacy as we experienced a couple battling with the desperate complexity of assisted suicide.
I won’t go into a review of how wonderfully Dearbhla Molloy and Bill Paterson drove a piece full of buttoned up rage with undisguised bravery. I won’t speak about how Tom Holloway’s disjointed chronology suited the tragic inevitability of terminal illness perfectly. Or how James Macdonald’s choice to have off stage actions (most movingly simply boiling a kettle) done in full sight made me realise that for once audience and actor were palpably sharing the same space and by proxy the same story. I will say listen to the Nick Cave song that I’m presuming inspired Holloway to write it, though make sure you have tissues when you do.
So why was it so good? It is integrity that powered this gut wrenching production. A quiet belief in the material they were sharing and in the work they were doing. This was theatre without a safety net, bold and brave and simple. It embraced its theatricality but didn’t hide behind the fakery that sometimes blights this art form. Excellent actors produced detailed choices that felt alive and unique and an audience became transported.
It made me realise how much safe work I see, work which doesn’t test itself or push itself because it’s afraid of failing. A lot of this work is from young devising companies jamming their pieces full of stuff; projections, ironies, winks and nudges designed to protect and deflect. In a post postmodern world theatre makers need to wear their hearts on their sleeves more, to mean what they say and say it, even if it’s uncomfortable, embarrassing or painful to say.
As we sat after, shell shocked, untouched glasses of red in front of us, my friend said “We need to remember that theatre can do that”. He’s so right; the gauntlet has been thrown down.