'Double Feature 1 and 2' review or 'Find a space and they will come.'

Double Feature 1, Paintframe, National Theatre, Wednesday 3rd August 2011
'Edgar and Annabel', Sam Holcroft and 'The Swan', D C Moore
Written for Ham & High

The Paintframe is prepared for press night and beyond. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Tucked alongside the National Theatre, a warehouse normally used for set construction has been thrown open to four young playwrights. The space is rough and ready but also exudes creative promise: tubs of paint litter the floor, ladders line the walls and skeletal rigs are exposed. Much like the plays themselves, this space isn't polished but it's heaving with potential.

Holcroft's 'Edgar and Annabel' opens on a clinically clean kitchen, in which Marianne (Kirsty Bushell) is preparing supper. Her husband returns home and Marianne, oddly terrified by his arrival, climbs the counter in fear. A script is produced and the two gradually settle into a strangely subdued routine.

Bubbles of doubt continually surface. The two discuss their salmon dinner, whilst producing a steaming chicken from the oven. They talk as husband and wife but seem like strangers. They express contentment yet bristle with anger. Reality slides oddly beneath the feet.

Husband and wife? Really?

Holcroft's brilliantly inventive play is set in the near future; a world in which bugging has leaked into every household, with government computers monitoring everyone and every word. The play bulges with prescient themes, pushing the recent Murdoch hacking scandal to frighteningly believable new heights. It is also bizarrely amusing, particularly when the gang of dissidents rig up a bomb as they jig along to 'I can't live' on the home karaoke machine.

D C Moore's 'The Swan' is less thematically ambitious and is instead driven by a memorable central performance and some viciously funny dialogue. The action unravels in a fag end of a local pub, to which Jim has retreated to avoid his son's funeral. Trevor Cooper is tremendous as the acid-mouthed Jim. He is a melting stone of a man – flinty but soft around the eyes in the presence of his son's step-daughter, the only real love he has ever known.


Double Feature 2, Paintframe, Thursday 4th August 2011
'Nightwatchman', Prasanna Puwanarajah and 'There Is A War', Tom Basden
Written for Ham & High

Both plays in second of the National's Double Features explore battles of varying absurdity. Puwanarajah's 'Nightwatchman' is set on the eve of female cricketer, Abirami's, first test match for England. Sri Lankan born Abirami battles an invisible bowling machine as well as her own demons, as she prepares to face the country she once fled. Basden's 'There is War' deals with equally faceless enemies and unfurls on the surreal battleground of a farcically futile civil war.

Director Polly Findlay injects Puwanarajah's solid but static monologue with energy and humour. The bowling machine becomes a vital extra character and, although the balls are invisible, the set groans and rattles on impact.

Stephanie Street's Abirami is warmly engaging and buzzes with fight and fizz. She's a fine cricketer too and the fierce focus in her eyes, as she whacks another ball clear, speaks of her sacrifices. But although Puwanarajah's concept is a useful one, the monologue starts to feel overstretched. As Abirami embarks on full on confession with her dead father, the energy drops and no number of boundary shots can get things moving again. 

Cricket isn't just about tea, you know. (Unless you're Bell, that is.)
Basden's show is less earnest and, with its bunch of oddball officers fighting a barmy war, is a beautifully British blend of Dad's Army, Monty Python and Blackadder. Everything is topsy turvy: soldiers stand on massive roles of sellotape, peas drop from the sky and decapitated heads are stored in massive milk cartons. 

Trevor Cooper (Father Michael), Phoebe Fox (Anne)
Photo Credit: Johan Persson
War is depicted as a world void of logic and a landscape fertile for satire. As two soldiers dispose of body parts, a man holding an extra hand shouts out, 'High Fifteen!' When asked how people can kill children, a soldier adds helpfully, 'Yeah, they're smaller targets.' This is really a series of themed sketches but, when they're this sharp and bonkers, it's hard to complain.