Blog brief and 'Snake in The Grass' and 'Vernon God Little' reviewed:

Why am I writing this blog and why should you read it?

Theatre is such a visual medium and yet, one often finishes an excellent review with no idea how a play felt, looked or moved. I'm trying to bridge this gap with my blog, which will combine the thoughts and sketches I scribble down whilst watching a play. Sometimes, it  isn't possible to draw; I'd look a bit of a fool, being carted around in the pitch black ('Cart Macabre' at The Old Vic Tunnels) or spun around blind-folded ('The Trial' at Southwark Playhouse), sketching furiously away. However, as often as I can, I will try to give a visual stamp to the shows I'm reviewing. I am by no means a fine artist so these sketches will be impressionistic, hopefully evoking the energy or emotion of a show, rather than realistic. 

I'll also be posting my full length reviews here: my weekly writing for The Ham & High, my occasional reviews for the Metro and my regular work for Culture Wars. It was this website (affiliated with the Institute of Ideas) that initially linked me into the London theatre scene and, for that, I am forever grateful.  

Click on 'Sketches From the Past' to see a collection of previous sketches and reviews. And, if you want to see more of my etchings, slide over to 'Critical Sketches' and 'Dramatic Flourishes'

Let's kick things off with a Valentine's Day spook-fest:

Snake in the Grass, Alan Ayckbourn
Print Room, 14th February 2011 

Photographer: Sheila Burnett
This is Susan Woolridge as prim sister Annabel, in Alan Ayckbourn's rarely performed 'Snake in The Grass'. She looks scared, doesn't she? But don't be deceived. Despite William Dudley's creepy and creeping set - a derelict tennis court, which even nature seems wary of - and Lucy Bailey's typically atmospheric direction, this ghost story is a spectre of Ayckbourn's finer and more successful comedies.

'Snake in the Grass' is a three-hander, which sees two sisters blackmailed by their father's carer. This picture shows the two sisters, Annabel and Miriam, pushing the bolshy carer into a well. It is a funny moment. Indeed, lots of this play is very funny - but the laughter drowns out the fear. Laughter is about release. Tension is about keeping things in. I'm not convinced these two diverging tones can work well together. The play creaks awkwardly and the later, disturbing revelations ('Release the darkness within you!') clash with the looser and more liberated first half, where the characters are broad and the laughs easy.

Vernon God Little. Novel by DBC Pierre, adapted by Tanya Ronder
Young Vic Theatre, 7th February 2011

Rufus Norris' revival of 'Vernon God Little', first staged at The Young Vic in 2007, is the centrepiece for this theatre's 40th anniversary. It symbolises everything that's great about this buzzing venue, which affords great freedom and encourages palpable theatricality from its visiting artists. It is always an exciting place to visit. 

This adaptation of DBC Pierre's novel, penned with gleaming wit and an admirably independent spirit by Tanya Ronder, shows us the novel through Vernon's eyes. That's pretty handy, since he's the narrator of Pierre's novel. Vernon is a 15 year old boy living in a small Texan town, frightened and then persecuted, following his best friend's massacre  of 16 classmates. Rufus Norris' throbbing, cartoon-like and gharish production transmutes the stage and characters through Vernon's vision. 

The characters are warped and somehow out of proportion. Smarmy TV presenter Larry, who has the hots for Vernon's mum, is portrayed with the spite and exaggerated spirit you might find in a teenager's diary. We see this ladder-climbing, thigh-rubbing presenter how Vernon sees him: slimy, preening and twisted by selfish ambition. A lot of the time, Larry parades the stage with a mock TV screen held in front of his face. His hypocrisy, as Vernon sees it, is all too apparent:

Location and time are also dealt with casually, reflecting those whizzing days but excruciatingly extended hours of early early adult-hood. Space functions in strange ways. The sofas Vernon sit on seem too big:

The rooms that suffocate Vernon seem to small. And, as all teenagers will testify, seemingly insignificant moments become huge. When Vernon flees to Mexico, he is taken under the wing of some locals, all twanging accents and lothario limbs. They are cartoon Mexicans, just as this cosseted boy would have seen them. When Vernon enters their van (see below), a beautifully elaborate and strikingly foreign display fills the window screen. In tandem, the stage is framed by colourful, abstract lighting. This tiny moments momentarily takes over Vernon's world and the stage, in turn, reflects this overwhelming experience. 

Daniel Cerqueira (Pelayo); Joseph Drake (Vernon); Nathan Osgood (Sheriff Pokorney). Photographer: Johan Persson
For a full length review, click here.


Popular Posts