Review – Straight, Crucible Studio, Sheffield, 10th November 2012

StraightWhenever I go to the Studio in Sheffield, I’m always amazed at how versatile a space it is. Like the Menier Chocolate Factory, every time you see a different show, the whole layout has changed. For D C Moore’s new play, the entire length of the wall opposite the entrance door has been given over to the set, a wonderfully convincing layout of a studio apartment – bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom (off) – just a bit of extra width and you would think it was absolutely for real. I loved the attention to detail of what was in the cupboards (they had those Nairn oatcake biscuits in all the flavours; I wonder if one of the cast or crew is a coeliac). You are asked to leave the auditorium for the (necessarily long) interval so that when you return the way it has been changed for the final scene has a terrific impact. Hats off to designer James Cotterill for his superb sets.

Henry Pettigrew This is the third D C Moore play we’ve seen. We thought Town was a beautifully crafted, rather sad play about someone returning home, and Honest a superb one-man play set (and performed) in a pub. “Straight” shares some common themes with these earlier plays, such as dealing with hidden secrets, and the responsibilities of telling the truth. It’s based on a film, Humpday, which I haven’t seen, but having read its wikipedia entry I can see that the story of the play seems pretty true to the original film, but with a couple of additional twists at the end (which makes the story far more interesting, to be honest.)

Jessica RansomBriefly, two old friends, Lewis and Waldorf, meet again after about ten years absence, get drunk and/or stoned on a night out and, inspired by one of Waldorf’s one-night stands, take a bet to perform in an amateur gay porn film. With each other. Penetrative sex, apparently; and they’re not gay. There’s no question that D C Moore is an exciting, original author and he creates moments of agonising self-revelation on stage. My personal main problem with this play is that I found the story rather hard to believe; and I also feel that the structure of the play is somewhat lumpy and that the story does not flow very well. The play culminates in an incredibly funny and cringe-inducing scene that deservedly brings the house down and ends with a serious and cryptic tone; but I sense that somehow the previous scenes have been pieced together backwards in order to get to that required conclusion. As a result there are some passages and plot developments that don’t really go anywhere, and a few character inconsistencies that tend to make you lose faith in the overall integrity of the piece. Mrs Chrisparkle accused the end of being a cop-out, deliberately vague and inconclusive. I’ve re-read the end a few times (the programme contains the script) and I do find it frustrating – I’d rather like the writer to commit himself to how he thinks life will go on in the future, but he doesn’t. I suppose it’s for us to decide; but I’m not sure I can really be bothered.

Philip McGinley Having said all that, I don’t want you to think that it’s not up to much, because actually it’s a very funny, entertaining and revealing play, directed with warmth and feeling by Richard Wilson and with four excellent performances. Henry Pettigrew as Lewis has just the right mixture of sincerity and self-doubt, and his easily abused open nature is very believable. I relished his superb comic timing and he held the audience’s attention with ease. Jessica Ransom as his wife Morgan has a brilliant way with her eyes to show surprise, dismay and the hundred other emotions that the disruption of her easy life with Lewis now requires. She too has a guilty secret and her scene with Lewis before the interval is played with beautiful control and sad tenderness. Her journey from a relaxed if a bit complacent partner to someone who’s had all the certainty removed from her life is very moving.

Jenny RainsfordPhilip McGinley (great as Mossop in Hobson’s Choice) is Waldorf, a libidinous louche loner who you suspect has shagged his way around the world just because he could. He reminded me strongly of an omnisexual university friend – you know the type. He plays the role of semi-unwanted guest with roguish charm and is completely believable. Suffice to say Messrs McGinley and Pettigrew together enact a comic and theatrical tour-de-force in the final scene, and make the most of the comic embarrassment of their situation – it’s superbly well done. The final member of the quartet, Jenny Rainsford as Steph, appears only relatively briefly (which is a shame) and does an absolutely perfect interpretation of a stoned art student. Her voice and mannerisms were accurate to a T.

We were quite surprised that it wasn’t a full house on Saturday night, as normally the Studio is packed. This is definitely a production to see, if you enjoy a bit of shock, a bit of cringe and a lot of laughs. Just don’t think too deeply about the plot but revel in the performances and you’ll have a great time.

Review – Town, Royal and Derngate Northampton, 24th June

TownYet another inventive staging at the Royal as we sit opposite each other with the stage down the middle, making you feel you are on the pavement whilst the action takes place on the street. The action takes place all over Northampton actually, although it could be anywhere really – you can replace the local references with others to make it feel like it applies to your home town.

But D C Moore, the author, is from Northampton, and has already given us his wonderful Honest earlier this year (on at Edinburgh this summer) and there are some parallels. John is a loner. You can tell that relationships have been tricky. His family have a lot of baggage. He has never been able to cope with it that well. The play starts with his return to Northampton from London where he has been trying to carve out an independent Mark Rice-Oxley lifestyle, but something happens which makes it impossible for him to stay and he has to escape back to familiar surroundings, uncomfortable though they may be.

Parents, an old friend, a new friend and the town itself both help and hinder his progress. It’s quite a simple tale but emotionally charged with fantastic performances throughout, but for me especially by Mark Rice-Oxley as John who conveys desperate to joyful with superb conviction, Joanna Horton and by Joanna Horton as Anna, his old friend, who has to cope with his unexpected return. The exchanges between the two as they touch on old subjects are electric with what’s left unspoken and feel so very very true to life.

90 minutes with no interval is something I tend not to look forward to, but this was one play where I did not want it to stop.

Review – Honest, The Mail Coach pub, Derngate, Northampton, Saturday 27th February.

HonestA young man, Dave – a bit like you or me (perhaps a bit younger than me!) – finished work, in the pub, downing a pint, possibly not his first of the evening, probably not his last of the evening, reflects on his work – he’s not happy there. He’s obviously got a lot to get off his chest; and the trouble is, he finds it very difficult not to be totally honest.

That can get you into all sorts of problems, when you’re talking to a boss you don’t respect; a colleague you despise; even your nephew who can’t draw for toffee. Still, during the course of one significant evening that he recollects, he learns how to tell a lie – and I *think* he feels the better for it, even if the person he tells it to also finds it difficult not to be honest. And at the end of the evening, he’s off, no goodbyes, into the night. He doesn’t know how we have reacted to him.

This young man has many layers of anxiety. He always notices anything that’s different from him. So he will always mention if one of the characters he’s talking about is black, or Muslim, say; I don’t think he’s in any way prejudiced, I just think he’s caught up with the minutiae of anything that’s not him. He’s definitely not a mixer, much more of a loner; socially rather inept, but knowing it – for example, there was a very entertaining segment about whether or not some girl would find his too-much-alcohol-induced vomit a turn on. He has a level of despair about his life that is quite touching. Many times he can’t quite finish his sentences – and it’s not the booze that prevents him, he’s just run out of emotional juice.

He is, however, prejudiced against those he feels have an unfair advantage over him – people with a private education, for example. He has a scene where he imagines a classroom in a public school where the teacher is telling the children that they are the advantaged, the blessed, and that they will rise and shine above all the nonentities who don’t go to a public school. I really wanted to get out of my seat at that point and put him right, as I went to such a school and that was something they would never ever have said!!

Mail Coach DC Moore’s one man 45 minute play is a mini nugget of theatrical tension. Held in the back bar at the Mail Coach pub in Northampton, we other drinkers watch him as his tale unfolds. It’s very conversational. You’re very close, physically, to him, as you would be if you were in a pub listening to a bloke talk. As indeed you are; but it is still a play, which at times can be alarmingly easy to forget. Thus it raises interesting questions about the difference between what is and what seems.

One aspect in which for me it didn’t quite work was that as it was so very very nearly real, I wanted to join in the conversation. Indeed at one point I said out loud “yes…” in response to one of his points, forgetting that it was a play. But the fact that you can’t talk back to him does make it slightly more artifice than reality and slightly one-sided, as he gets to do all the talking.

Thomas Morrison Another aspect is that it was 6.30pm on a Saturday. Our man was I think at about 9.30pm on a weeknight. He’d had a few; we were on our first. There’s an imbalance there; but he talks as though we are his equals in “being out late at the pub” terms. It would have been fascinating if they had been able to do it “twice nightly”, say 6.30 and 9.00 – to see if the 9pm show had a more reckless feel to it. But I digress. Even if it were just an exercise in staging a play in a different environment, it would still work; but moreover it is tightly written, beautifully acted by Thomas Morrison, intimate, sensitive, revelatory, and dare I say it, very honest.