Lockdown Theatre Festival – Day Two
While there are many productions which have not made it onto a stage at all because of theatre and rehearsal room closures, some plays found themselves in the very difficult position of having to shut down just as they were about to open or in mid run, almost without a moment’s notice. BBC Radio’s Lockdown Theatre Festival aims to highlight such productions by broadcasting them with the original casts albeit in an audio format only. The short festival consists of four productions organised and curated by actor Bertie Carvel
The Mikvah Project by Josh Azouz had originally got quite a way into its run at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond before lockdown took place. A mikvah is a bath used in Judaistic ritual and the protagonists of the play, Eitan and Avi, meet there regularly on a Friday night to immerse themselves and achieve purification. It soon becomes apparent that 17 year old Eitan has developed a crush on 35 year old Avi and that his reasons for attending are, therefore, not quite as pure as they might be. Avi resists the urge to respond though eventually does so, going as far as to accompany Eitan on a foreign holiday paid for by the younger man with his carefully saved Bar mitzvah money. Avi tells his pregnant wife that he is on a golfing holiday when all the while he is indulging in a different sort of bathing in a hotel pool. This part of the plot seems highly unlikely given Avi’s steadfast refusal to cave in to Eitan’s demands but the lure of their mutual attraction proves too strong and, therefore, the relationship develops and matters come to a head. All of this seemed vaguely reminiscent and then I realised that it is almost the plot of Brokeback Mountain but transposed to north London and with a slightly different age dynamic.
I did not miss the visual dimension quite so much in this production as in the two previous plays; indeed from photographs I later accessed it looks as though the mikvah would have over dominated the playing space at the Orange Tree so in that sense it was better left to our imaginations and the skill of the sound design of Lex Krosanke. Georgia Green’s directorial choices (or the original writing, I’m not sure which) was rather more questionable. The play makes heavy use of narration which interrupts the dialogue far too frequently and upsets the natural rhythms of the piece. Even more irritating is that much of this narration is in the third person with characters telling us what they are doing. I had assumed that this was all as a result of presenting the play in its new audio form but apparently the staged version used the same conceit – this must have been quite annoying. Creditably though, when the dialogue is allowed to flow it presents two distinct voices in the main characters and both are ably portrayed by Josh Zaré (Eitan) and Alex Waldmann (Avi). I learned quite a bit about Jewish rituals but insufficient about human relationships. The play simply needed to be much bolder than it was in raising the stakes for those involved.
The final play in the season is Love, Love, Love by Mike Bartlett which had opened and played a handful of performances at the Lyric, Hammersmith. This, to me, was the pick of the bunch; it is a bruising yet very funny account of a couple’s lives across 40+ years. We first meet Kenneth and Sandra in 1967 when they are just 19. It is the night when the Beatles first performed All You Need Is Love (the opening chant of which gives the play its title) on TV and there is a spirit of optimism and growing freedom in the air. Sandra is supposed to be Henry’s girlfriend but his brother Kenneth has other ideas and he and Sandra form an instant mutual attraction. We meet them again in 1990 when they have married, have two teenage children and their relationship is hitting the rocks. Finally, we catch up with them again in 2011 – by now their children are in their 30s and feeling betrayed by the older generation who they think have sacrificed their offspring’s freedom in selfish pursuit of their own. Their daughter, unable to get her own life started accuses them: “You didn’t change the world, you bought it and then privatised it”
The play addresses issues about money, responsibility, parenting, the debt we owe future generations and personal relationships but never does so in a way that is preachy or tedious. Rather the themes arise out of very well-crafted dialogue the rhythms of which are exploited by a first-class cast. Nicholas Burns as Kenneth gives us a cleverly paced and expertly delivered character. He is probably the more sympathetic of the main pair although Burns shows that his character does not always make the right choices. Rachel Stirling is a total delight as Sandra who uses the cadences of her voice (oh, how she sounds like mum, Diana Rigg) to beguile Kenneth and us in the first act. By the end of the play her voice has dropped at least an octave and she has become the spiteful ex-wife/ex-mother from hell. Her former slightly ditzy persona has been exchanged for a hard shell of bitter regret and self-protection. Isabella Laughland as daughter Rose starts in Act 2 as a just 16 year old and then comes into her own as her disillusioned self 21 years later. I’m not sure how the actors were managing the 40 years of transitioning on stage but it works brilliantly on audio.
Rachel O’Riordan’s direction is sharply focused on Bartlett’s intelligent and biting dialogue which is complete in itself. There is no need for an intrusive narrative voice in this instance to keep telling us what we are missing. Although the play is ten years old it is still completely relevant as it exposes what has become of the mid sixties dream of peace, love and understanding. Love may be all we need but, apparently, it is no easy matter to find it.
Lockdown Theatre Festival is an attempt to respond positively and creatively…. It is an opportunity to celebrate the richness of our theatrical culture and at the same time an invitation to consider how on earth we can weather this storm Bertie Carvel
The season opened with Shoe Lady by E.V. Crowe and Rockets and Blue Lights by Winsome Pinnock (Click here)
The Lockdown Theatre Festival is available via the BBC website for one month. Click here
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