Tag Archives: drama

ADULT SUPERVISION at the PARK THEATRE, Finsbury

17 Oct

First appeared in British Theatre Guide on 16th October 2013

Rating ****

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Susannah Doyle, Amy Robbins and Jacqueline Boatswain
Photo credit Mark Douet

That is what tonight is about”, exclaims one of Sarah Rutherford’s white mothers – the play approaching its halfway point.  Unless you’ve been asleep you’ll know she’s talking about race.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll already be suffering from mild concussion at being repeatedly slapped about the chops with the subject.

The action takes place in a swanky London ‘media room’ on the eve of Obama’s election in 2008.  Pursed-lipped and sanctimonious, Natasha plays hostess to three other mothers in an evening devised to diversify the racial portfolio of her children’s friends.  Mo and Angela are both one half of mixed race couples and “Aryan” Izzy’s only there as moral support – and because she’s known Natasha for years.  The four women turn to Truth or Dare and lethal ‘Obamatinis’ in a desperate bid to break the ice.  Meanwhile their absent children and men begin to drive the action from civilised small talk to knife-wielding hysteria.

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Olivia Poulet, Susannah Doyle, Amy Robbins and Jacqueline Boatswain
Photo credit Mark Douet

As etiquette breaks down, there are fantastic moments of farce.  Angela, her vast pregnant belly and a medicinal cocktail bouncing regally together on Natasha’s exercise ball; Izzy’s entrance in full wedding regalia, bare bottom exposed; the unravelling of Natasha’s perfectly coiffed hair as she well and truly loses her composure.  This cast certainly nails comic timing, riffing off each other in a virtuous (and at times vicious) cycle of energy.  Susannah Doyle imbues the uptight Natasha with a touch of camp, while Olivia Poulet manages to move her naïve subservient Izzy away from the girlishness of her first appearance.  Amy Robbins, as the initially most likeable Mo, and Jacqueline Boatswain, as the unflappable Angela, arguably have the harder parts to play.  They cope brilliantly, steering away from easy stereotypes and allowing the comedy of their characters to build gradually as their contradictions are exposed.

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Susannah Doyle, Amy Robbins and Jacqueline Boatswain
Photo credit Mark Douet

Race issues may be rammed down the audience’s throat and some of the points laboured (Angela feels it necessary to repeat and clarify the obvious post-colonial overtones of Natasha making her Ethiopian children “earn” back everything they’re given by their white parents), but on the whole the subject is handled with sophistication and modernity.  The conversation in which Angela and Mo indirectly ask Natasha why she chose to adopt black babies rather than “white trash” raises a difficult issue little confronted in the tabloid press, where Madonna and ‘Brangelina’ are feted as “the saviours of poor little black kids” without regard for the power structure this suggests.

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Jacqueline Boatswain and Olivia Poulet
Photocredit Mark Douet

Much has been made new playwright Sarah Rutherford’s originality in Adult Supervision.  But as the action unfolded I couldn’t shift the sense of déjà vu.  Déjà vu the U.S. election night setting – Christopher Shinn’s Now or Later (Royal Court, 2008).  Déjà vu the disintegration of social niceties when four parents are confined for an evening in a smart city apartment with access to booze and nothing to talk about but their kids – Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage (Gielgud Theatre, 2008).  And déjà vu race talk – Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park (Royal Court, 2010) and David Mamet’s Race (Hampstead Theatre, 2013).

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Jacqueline Boatswain and Olivia Poulet
Photo credit Mark Douet

Perhaps Rutherford could have made more out of gender with her all-female cast?  She touches on notions of motherhood, but ironically some of the most powerful characters in the play are the husbands, boyfriends and sons we never see.

None of that seemed to bother the guffawing audience.  The Park’s founder and artistic director Jez Bond has every right to a smug smile.  While Adult Supervision may pander to the self-indulgent navel gazing of the urbane liberal middle classes, its astuteness makes that mild concussion well worth it.

Until 3rd November.  Tickets:  020 7870 6876.  parktheatre.co.uk

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Life in the Pressure Cooker: The Kitchen

12 Oct

It might have been better if John Dexter, then a nascent directorial star with The Royal Court Theatre, hadn’t loved Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen so much.

Tom Brooke and Rory Keenan fight over the hob

Written for a 1954 Sunday Observer competition which it didn’t win, The Kitchen still seems not quite ready for public consumption.  The wit is slow, the repartee unnatural and the rehashed structure clumsy in its transparency.  But Dexter, having wowed The Royal Court’s artistic director with his productions of Wesker’s Chicken Soup with Barley and Roots, seemed to want to show he could direct even a text previously turned down by the theatre he was working in.

The original version of the script was without interlude or interval; a single relentless scene of life in a restaurant kitchen.  Dexter told Wesker to break it up with a quiet section.  “He didn’t care what it as about as long as it broke the intensity of the two ‘work’ parts,” writes Wesker.  The resulting “dream sequence” at the beginning of the second act does just this: it breaks the frenetic energy of the working kitchen, but that’s all it does.  It has no cohesion with the first act and is painfully signposted in the second act.  Because of this it remains quite obviously a dramatic device, a necessary addition, rather than an organic – or useful – development in the plot.

The cast move naturally between dialogue and dance

But if the script fails in its attempts at loftiness, it succeeds at its simplest level: to show life in the pressure cooker environment of a commercial kitchen.  And some of the acting is superb.  Tom Brooke weaves his way fluidly around the onstage labyrinth of kitchen units, all the while twitching with the nervous energy of his character Peter.  Physically the play is mesmerising: twice the actors slide into quasi-dance routines to show the repetitive and intricate nature of their work.  Movement Director Aline David can be proud of the way this blends into the rest of the play.

Rory Keenan and Katie Lyons deserve mentions for their honest depictions of Kevin and Monique.  Luke Norris brings a spark to Michael and Bruce Myers gets the ponderous, surly Marango just right.

Watch this play for its fabulous set.  Watch it for its actors, its choreography, for its insight into the backstage of a restaurant.  Just don’t watch it for its script.

The Kitchen is at the Olivier, National Theatre until Wednesday 9th November 2011.