Posts Tagged ‘ Menier Chocolate Factory ’

A Number, Menier Chocolate Factory, review

A Number, Menier Chocolate Factory
Dir: Jonathan Munby

How would you feel if you discovered you weren’t the only you? That’s the question posed by A Number, Caryl Churchill’s deeply thought-provoking and intricately woven play about human cloning.

A Number Menier Chocolate Factory

At 35, Bernard discovers that he is not an only son, as he’d always thought, but that there are perhaps twenty clones of him. His father, Salter, assures him that he is ‘the original’. But Salter is lying. Bernard is the clone of his father’s first son, (also called Bernard) who Salter treated so badly he was put into care. In effect, Bernard is Salter’s second chance.

In Jonathan Munby’s production Salter and Bernard are played by real-life father and son Timothy and Sam West. This version originally had a short run in Sheffield Theatres’ Studio in 2006 (not the Crucible as everyone seems to have assumed…) and Munby, Samuel and Timothy West have been trying to find the perfect place to re-stage it ever since.

The Menier stage has been turned into an “in-the-round” venue for A Number, creating a rawness which only this staging can provide. Paul Wills’ design is sparse in the extreme: an armchair and a table is all the furniture on stage. Look up, however, and it’s a different story. Hanging over the characters’ heads is a rack of what must be hundreds of test tubes.

Both Wests are fierce, impressive character actors and thrive on the small-scale scrutiny of this staging. Combined with the sparsity of the set, their performances feel like acting in its purest form – a conscious irony, I’m sure, given the play’s subject matter. Timothy West, as the father is tired and defensive while Samuel as three different sons creates a different kind of fragility for each. Together, their timing is super-human: they finish each others’ sentences, or leave phrases hanging, knowing the other has already understood. This is partly down to the finesse of Churchill’s writing which demands, according to Timothy West that one “re-educate oneself into how real people speak, how people can leave a sentence in the middle because it becomes perfectly clear what they’re saying”.­

A Number is that rare thing: a brilliant play, impeccably acted. Samuel West skips between the three sons with such ease that this character-switching in itself raises the question of what really defines a person. Between each scene the play’s theme is translated into a powerful image, as a blue photocopier light scans Salter from head-to-toe. A final exchange with another of the cloned sons, however, underlines how difficult it is to define what makes a person individual: “Tell me something about you.” Salter asks. A pause. “Um…I like banana milkshake.”

5/5

 

 

A number runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 5 November

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Educating Rita, Trafalgar Studios, review

Willy Russell’s Educating Rita is a creature of its time – very much rooted in 1980s Liverpool. Despite this, its central theme – the desire for knowledge and self-improvement – is universal. It’s a pity, then, that Jeremy Sams’ production, which transferred from the Menier Chocolate Factory in July, is ultimately unfulfilling.

The Pygmalion-like story follows Rita as she tries to “learn everything” by enrolling on an Open University course. Frank, her tutor, may be “a crazy mad piss-artist who wants to throw his students out of the window” but nevertheless the two strike up a close friendship.

All the action takes place in one room and Peter McKintosh’s set is a feast for the eyes. This is the most realistic of dons’ offices: from the stacks of tattered books, to the wonky swivel chair and concealed whisky bottles. Like Rita, the audience can’t help but gaze admiringly from one dusty object to another in awe.

The inhabitant of this time-capsule of an office is Tim Pigott-Smith’s Frank. Leering at Rita, Pigott-Smith is just the wrong side of creepy uncle. While Frank is an undeniably flawed character, this version elicits no empathy from the audience and with the exception of one wonderfully lit, poignant scene in which he tries to ring Rita at home, he is barely likeable.

Laura Dos Santos as Rita manages to hold the stage well, though convinces more as the “educated” Rita than the skittish woman we encounter at the beginning. Despite swallowing a couple of punch-lines she does a good line in earnest nervousness, although her friendship with the pathetic Frank is essentially unbelievable. Dos Santos, a relative newcomer, deserves credit for managing to make the role her own – despite the inevitable comparison with Julie Walters’ film portrayal.

In the end, however, this production fails to meet the demands of the play or transcend the monotony of the one-room setting. Russell’s script trembles with humanity and is capable of moving an audience both to tears of joy and sadness. Sams’ production is a competent rendition but ultimately fails to tug the necessary heartstrings.

3/5

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