<strong><em>Ruckus (Review)</em></strong>

Ruckus (Review)

ONSTAGE

One of the stories in today’s newspaper which caught my eye was the case of Michael Marsh and his partner Aileen Till. The latter had found herself in a relationship in which her partner forced her to count firewood logs to ensure that none had been stolen during the night, forbade her to buy gifts for her grandchildren and even rationed her use of dishwasher tablets. On standing up to him she was made to sleep outside in the pouring rain. Marsh was found guilty of coercive behaviour, and this resonated as I had seen a play on that very subject only the day before.

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Ruckus, currently at Southwark Playhouse, is a monodrama written and performed by Jenna Fincken. It forensically examines one person’s experience of controlling behaviour and the path of a relationship which at first seems loving and well balanced but gradually reveals itself to be far removed from that. In this instance Lou is a primary school teacher who is whisked off from London to Newquay to start a new life with Ryan. With his initial romantic gestures, his ability to make Lou laugh and the prospect of a whole life ahead of them, he seems too good to be true. That’s because he is, as Lou gradually discovers. As an audience we can see what’s coming a mile off because we can read the runes dispassionately. What seems like a harmless joke and even a game to her as she tries to locate miniature farm animals hidden around the house, this soon reveals itself to be Ryan’s manipulative way of making Lou do the housework. He also confiscates her mobile phone and reacts badly when she spends time with her friends. Even so when Lou’s associates drop hints and even warn her outright, she either cannot or will not see the truth.

Ruckus-Ali-Wright-5As a narrative the piece is well constructed with short scenes that propel the action forward across a lengthy time span meaning we are soon approaching a crisis point where the mental manipulation starts turning into physical control. By then Lou has woken up to the situation but doesn’t think anyone will believe her. The audience are left in the position of helpless onlookers and auditors as the story unfolds. Fincken plays all the characters and although some emerge as rather clichéd the central figure is completely realised and her engaging personality shines through. The actor is adept at some of the more physical aspects of performing, encouraged by Christina Fulcher’s movement direction and Georgia Green’s directorial tight hold on proceedings. I was a bit nonplussed as to why it was deemed necessary to mike the performance. It takes place in a relatively small space and as far as I could tell Fincken would have no trouble with voice projection, so it simply seemed unnecessary.

Ruckus-Ali-Wright-1-1024x620Although a solo piece there is a second actor involved in the shape of Matthew Durkan’s voice. He plays Ryan and it is a clever conceit to have him heard but not seen, particularly when he starts to become the evident villain of the piece. There were occasional hiccups with the synchronisation but nothing so extensive as to spoil the moment. The same can be said of the projections of text messages onto curtaining. It wasn’t clear whether we were supposed to be able to read the contents – I certainly couldn’t – but I’m not sure that it mattered all that much. The general thrust of the piece and the messages contained within it were strong enough to carry the piece through.

There is no doubt that Ruckus deals with an important topic which is put over with thought and clarity and is good at highlighting an aspect of life that is a problem in some peoples’ lives. It is perhaps a shame that I came to it so soon after seeing another monodrama which was simply mind blowing – The Poltergeist at the Arcola. Both pieces are characterised by high energy performances from young actors and they both have plenty to say on the subject of mental health. While theatre shouldn’t really be about competition, one of these pieces is good while the other is exceptional. Just as well there is room for both.

Production photos by Ali Wright

Ruckus is at the Southwark Playhouse – click here

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