Wild. Live relay from Hampstead Theatre. 23-07-16

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Caoilfhionn Dunne and Jack Farthing in Wild. Production photograph Stephen Cumminskey.

Mike Bartlett’s play Wild, which has just finished it’s run at Hampstead is an interesting and ambitious piece of theatre. It is difficult to write about because it contains a terrific coup de theatre- even the fact that it is there shouldn’t really be given away- and this is what you come away remembering and thinking about. The other thing which makes it difficult is that I was only able to see it by live relay and this sometimes makes it hard to judge performances. I found one of the characters- Caoilfhionn Dunne as “woman” a little overdone and mannered but every time that the camera pulled back and I could see her in the same way that I would have as part of the audience things came into focus. The part was being played on stage for the benefit of an audience who were actually present and those of us who had free seats via our computer for the final performance couldn’t be taken into account. A screen performance requires a very different technique and depending on the character that they are playing, a stage performance doesn’t always translate onto screen as well as it deserves to. Perhaps it was just me………….

I admire Mike Bartlett’s ambition as a writer. He has the courage to tackle a big subject, one which is not inherently theatrical, and make it work on stage. It examines the consequences of a large scale release of private information by a whistle blower- Andrew- who has now been forced into hiding by his actions and faces an uncertain future, not knowing who to trust. It allows the play to look at the real life actions of Edward Snowden, and what they mean, both for society and for us all, as individuals who are often prepared to give up so much of our privacy without a second thought. In the past those who stole and revealed sensitive and private information were thought of as traitors but Edward Snowden has also been called a hero. It’s a complex issue and while the play doesn’t fully work, a very big ask, it goes some way to untangling it. There are just three characters in a rather average looking hotel room. This means that it needs plenty of very good dialogue and lots of energy from the actors if the writer doesn’t want to risk sending the audience to sleep. Mike Bartlett does much more than this by turning things around at the end and reminding everyone in no uncertain terms that this is a piece of theatre. This takes real imagination- and great stage design from Miriam Buether. There is humour and some sharp playing from the three actors. John Mackay is a cool, quiet, enigmatic presence as “man” and Jack Farthing gives a natural, understated and convincing performance as Andrew.

And there is always that coup de theatre. Well worth seeing. I wish I had been there.

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Love, Love, Love. Paines Plough and Drum Theatre Plymouth at the Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough. 2-4-11

Mike Bartlett’s play Love, Love, Love is a traditional three act play, with living rooms and set changes. It is a welcome surprise to find that a modern award winning playwright is still interested in writing a play like it. The time span is wide, starting with the beginning of a relationship in 1967 when Kenneth carelessly steals his straight laced friend’s girlfriend Sandra, going on to the day that the resulting relationship implodes in 1990, and finally examining the long term damage caused by the selfishness of the couple, particularly to their children in the present day. It is a merciless examination of the selfishness of the baby boomer generation and its consequences and nobody escapes blame. Yes, the parents have been lucky to be born when they were, and yes the two we are shown have certainly been selfish and self indulgent, but at some point each person has to take responsibility for their own life and their children can’t escape that fact. I really enjoyed seeing a play that sets out an argument without hectoring the audience or losing sight of the fact that its characters also need to be real and believable. There is some blistering dialogue, particularly in the very fine second act, which is fast and naturalistic and makes considerable demands on the actors. It shows us very clearly the kind of cruelty that people who know each other only too well can indulge in when a relationship goes sour, and how this can destroy the lives of children who are innocent bystanders.

Dialogue as good as this is a gift for actors, so long as they are up to it, and this is a very good cast indeed who rise to the occasion with great panache. The central couple, Kenneth and Sandra, are a fascinating pair of middle class monsters. They are a good match for each other, both wilful, self indulgent and selfish, seeming to be completely unaware of the damage that they are causing to those around them, and blind to the needs of their children. They will survive, their kind always do, but it will be at someone else’s expense. Ben Addis and Lisa Jackson have great rapport as Kenneth and Sandra and they play off each other with great speed and accuracy. They could take on the roles of George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with no trouble at all. Their daughter Rose is a trier, a good girl who wants to please, driven to extremes by the fact that her parents don’t seem to notice or care much however hard she works, or whatever she does. She is screaming out for someone to take an interest in her but nobody even bothers to remember what she is doing let alone care about it. Rosie Wyatt gives a fine performance, particularly as the sixteen year old Rose in the second act. Her younger brother Jamie is brighter and sharper than his sister. The lack of guidance and understanding from his parents leads him to opt out. He is content, in collusion with his father, to slob around and achieve little. It is a waste of a life, and you wouldn’t want to see the results of his behaviour when he reaches middle age. James Barrett does a good job and makes the most of a part where he is not given quite so much to work with as the other characters. A lot has to go unsaid.

It’s not often that a back stage team gets a mention but having watched them do two complete set changes, including flats, in front of an audience I feel the need to give them a pat on the back. They were slick and efficient and didn’t waste a moment, and that mattered.

This play deserved a bigger audience for the matinee here in Scarborough. When writing and acting this good come together it reminds me why I keep coming to the theatre. I am very pleased that Paines Plough and the Drum Theatre Plymouth are alive and well and able to send theatre of this quality all the way up north.