Monday, March 17, 2008

Emotional Wringer

Last week I was lucky enough to see two plays that packed a real emotional punch. The first of these was random, the new play by Debbie Tucker Green at the Royal Court. This is a beautifully pared down piece of theatre. There is no set, no props, just one woman, actress Nadine Marshall, standing against a black, back wall. She moves from character to character, mother, father, brother, sister, telling the story of an ordinary family, an ordinary day. Arguments over mobile phones and burnt bits in the porridge. And then something bad happens – the random act that changes everything. And the writing suddenly envelops you, tugs you along into awful places. It’s the details that make it so powerful. The sister trying to hold onto the memory of her brother’s odour. The police officers who fail to take their boots off in the family’s living room. The writing has a wonderful grasp of rhythm, finding poetry in people’s everyday voices, and Marshall is superb, hopping from character to character – by the end of the 50 minutes I felt drained, spent.

The other play was Snowbound by Ciaran McConville. Currently on at the smaller of the Trafalgar Studios, this is a play about Tom, a stoic young man who has been caring for his disabled brother since the death of their mother, putting his life on hold. Then he meets Mary and falls in love and starts to put himself first.

It’s a flawed play, yes. It veers close to cliché at times, especially in the way that Tom’s brother Alex is conveniently always able to see to the core of a situation and say something that is both simple, suspiciously poetic and yet wise at the same time. Tom’s girlfriend Mary is also just too damn sweet and good – something awful is bound to happen to her and it does. But where McConville excels is in scenes of unabashed emotion – the final scene between the two brothers is powerful stuff, superbly performed by Sam Hazeldine and Karl Davies. It was a scene of rare rawness. Unsurprisingly there was an awful lot of sniffing and nose-wiping and ‘whoops, I appear to have something in my eye’ type mumbling as people left the theatre.

And, harking back to the Barbican and the less than impressive stage brawling in The Harder They Come, Snowbound also featured one of the most convincing stage punches I’ve seen in ages. You felt it connect; you feared for Davies’s dental work. The Whingers may also be interested to know that a large bowl of pasta, coated in an unappetising sludgy cream sauce, is not only consumed by the valiant cast but is used as an inspired alternative to the familiar glass-of-wine-in-the-lap move as a way of bringing an end to a particularly bitter marital dispute. There even appeared to be some proper Bucks Fizz being drunk at one point, a glass of which I could well have done with myself after that last scene.

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