Posts Tagged ‘ Kilburn ’

A Butcher of Distinction, Cock Tavern Theatre: review

Since I saw this play The Cock Tavern have had to suspend all their shows because of a dispute with the council over their entertainment license. See their website for the latest.

By Rob HayesCock Tavern Theatre Rob Hayes
Directed by Ned Bennett

The Cock Tavern Theatre in Kilburn is getting a bit of a reputation for gore. Barely a moment went by during the recent Edward Bond season without someone being murdered on stage. And there is a touch of the Edward Bond to this new play by Rob Hayes.

The scenario as the lights go up is: two recently orphaned boys sort through their father’s things. Their estranged papa has just killed their mother before killing himself. He has also sold off everything that belonged to this once aristocratic family, “including the art collection”. The twin boys are left with nothing and have come down to London, where their father spent most of his time, to salvage what they can. One is a goatherd and one is the butcher of the title. They have cut-glass accents and say things like “old boy” and wear tweed.

Ned Bennett’s production doesn’t apologise for the absurdist strain in Hayes’ script: in fact Bennett adds pauses to highlight the black humour in lines like “Don’t move Hugo. Stay still and let the man stroke your face.”

“The man” is Teddy, played by a sinister Michael Gould, a gigolo – a fact that becomes clear to the audience long before the boys realise (although they probably don’t know the word).

Sam Swann as the younger of the twins (by 10 minutes) could not be wetter behind the ears. His wide, dark eyes seem to take up half of his face and his snub nose is straight out of Enid Blyton. Ciarán Owens is the older, taller, stronger, more dominating brother, Hartley. He runs his fingers through his greasy hair and is constantly on edge. Swann and Owens both give finely tuned performances and their exchanges capture the contradiction always present in sibling relationships – constant bickering tempered by deep-seated affection.

Both characters appear to have stepped straight out of a Nancy Mitford novel, however, and are entirely unbelievable. No one refers to parties as “hootenannies” anymore or refers to Indian people as “dusky”. But the problem wasn’t that these characters were too absurd but that the rest of the play wasn’t absurd enough.

By far the most captivating scene of the play is the last one, in which Hayes evokes Renaissance writers like Middleton and Ford in the more gruesome touches. And there is more than a whiff of Sweeney Todd. The utterly bizarre but compelling last 10 minutes involve a sheep costume, a walking stick, a meat cleaver and a straw boater. And it is brilliant. Obviously Hayes couldn’t have pitched the whole play at this level and the structure of the work does drive towards the dénouement. But Hugo and Hartley seem to have strolled in to the play from a different universe and the piece would perhaps have had more force if the setting (a London flat), the other characters mentioned and even Teddy, were a touch more ridiculous.

This review originally appeared on The Public Reviews

The Emperor’s New Clothes

What do Equus, The Romans in Britain, recent productions of King Lear and Edward Bond’s The Fool have in common?

Daniel Radcliffe naked in Equus

They all featured people in the altogether, their birthday suit: nude. But is it necessary? What does nudity achieve on stage and is there an argument that asking actors to appear naked is, at best, objectifying them, at worst, exploitation?

As the theatre critic for a local paper in Willesden and Kilburn, I saw four out of six of the plays which made up the Cock Tavern Theatre’s Edward Bond season. Two of these featured nudity and I began to ask myself why playwrights and directors do it.

To take the Bond example first: Bond’s particular shtick is showing extreme violence on stage in an attempt to shock the audience into recognising the violence in our own society. The nudity is part of this. There is no question that nudity in Bond’s work is to do with exploitation. In The Fool, an old vicar is stripped first of his riches, then his outer clothes, then his under garments (this was set in Victorian times, so we’re talking long johns) and finally his under pants.

Ben Crispin as John Clare in The Cock Tavern's The Fool The character was being abused and exploited. But what about the actor? And remember that this was staged in the tiny Cock Tavern Theatre (let’s just get the pun about this being an apt place to stage plays involving nudity out of the way now). There was nowhere to hide for the actor, the audience were three metres away at most and there was nothing subtle about the lighting of this scene. I wondered whether the actor had known about this scene when he’d auditioned. And how much he was getting paid.

While the nudity here didn’t feel gratuitous, it was excruciating and made the audience’s position feel hugely inappropriate, heartless and voyeuristic. And perhaps this was Bond’s point – but it made me distinctly nervous about going to another play by him. And if I hadn’t been reviewing the season, I probably would have avoided the later shows. This particular scene felt too real – we weren’t watching people pretending to strip an old man naked and then pinch him all over. They were actually doing this.

But nudity needn’t be harrowing. Back in 2006, I saw Sam West’s production of Howard Brenton’s The Romans in Britain at the Crucible. What seemed like 10 completely naked men cart-wheeled across the stage, frolicked (there is no other word for it) in an enormous swimming pool and, aside from the notorious gay rape scene, generally had a whale of a time. The actors seemed to be liberated and there was no hint of awkwardness. This was a celebration of the human form.

One acting coach is firmly of the view that nudity on stage is exploitative and he makes a good case, but Michael Billington wrote this persuasive piece when Daniel Radcliffe was appearing in Equus some years ago, suggesting that nudity should just be one tool in a director’s kit (!) and nothing to fill newspaper columns about.

Personally, at the moment, I feel that if I ever see another naked, cowering man on stage, it will be too soon. What about you?

Hotel Sorrento, Cock Tavern Theatre, Kilburn: review

This review first appeared in the Willesden and Brent Times on 2 September

Dir: Adam Spreadbury-Maher

I know it takes a long time to get to Australia. But this is a little extreme: Hotel Sorrento, by Australian playwright Hannie Rayson, had its UK premiere at the Cock Tavern Theatre last Friday – twenty years after it was first written.

Although the play has won awards Down Under and features on the Australian school syllabus, it is practically unknown in the UK.

The play tells the story of three grown-up, Australian sisters – Meg, Pippa and Hilary – who are reunited and forced to come to terms with their past after one of them tells all in a semi-autobiographical novel. The publication of the novel is the catalyst which brings the family back together again, unearthing issues of loyalty and cultural identity. We “pommies” feature quite heavily too.

Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s production in the tiny Cock Tavern Theatre is intricately and cleverly staged but he fails to elicit sympathy for the central characters.

Meg, the novelist, is played as a larger-than-life, over-earnest “artist” by Alix Longman. But though the story revolves around her, Longman’s Meg is hard to warm to with her tantrums and po-faced piety. Disappointingly, for a play which claims to interrogate cultural assumptions, her husband Edwin (Alec Walters) is little more than a stereotype of an Englishman – who enters, for goodness’ sake, with a tea cosy on his head.

Sister, Hilary, on the other hand – “the parochial one” – is created tenderly and convincingly by Maggie Daniels. The relationship with her son, Troy – a boyish Alex Farrow – is the emotional heart of the piece. Farrow manages to capture that essential teenage vulnerability and the scenes between him and Daniels tremble with unspoken suffering. Elsewhere, Shelley Lang’s Pippa is engagingly angular and moody while Martin Bendel’s Wal, the gruff father-of-the-family, brings comedy to the proceedings.

Overall, however, the piece lacks a clear identity. The first half is more soap-opera, the second half, attempts cultural philosophy: Hotel Sorrento tries to do too much and would have benefited from some editing. A sub-plot following two holiday-makers, for example, (played by Edmund Dehn and Ania Marson) feels cursory. Their continual bickering, rather than informing the main plot, soon begins to grate.

Australian literature should undoubtedly be better known here – for that reason, the Cock Tavern deserve credit for their decision to stage Hotel Sorrento. But this felt like an essentially Australian piece of drama. Staged in the UK, Hotel Sorrento feels like a play in exile and seems to be suffering from the malaise of its characters – an identity crisis.

Hotel Sorrento runs at the Cock Tavern Theatre, Kilburn until 11 September