Saturday, 14 February 2015

Theatre review: Man

The Young Vic's smallest studio is definitely the place to go to see the latest award-winning new directors' work - this time it's the Genesis Future Directors Award that's back at the Clare, with Finn Beames this year's recipient for his production of three Tennessee Williams shorts, collected under the title Man. And the Young Vic's definitely the right place for it, as Beames seems to have drawn inspiration from a number of last year's main house hits there, most notably A View From The Bridge. The recent trend for stripped-back Williams that I've been enjoying continues here in Mayou Trikerioti's design of black, white and grey, the centrepiece of the traverse stage being a huge, shiny black frame that slides across the set to provide sometimes a window frame to look out onto unseen but crucial events; others a literal or metaphorical obstacle between the characters.

The most stylised performances come in the opener, Summer at the Lake, in which Justine Mitchell and Nikesh Patel play recently-divorced mother and sensitive 16-year-old-son. Mitchell's occasional rants about her ex are muttered angrily to herself, an effective technique in this intimate space; but I hope Beames doesn't take this Katie Mitchell influence too far once he starts working in bigger auditoria, and internalise the actors' dialogue to the point of excluding the audience.

The pair play mother and son again in Auto-da-Fe, this time Patel's character is a strongly religious, asthmatic postal worker who becomes fixated on an erotic photo he claims to have found when it fell out of an unsealed envelope. Both these first two plays cover familiar Williams themes of repressed sexuality and domineering mothers, and though well-performed they do suffer slightly from being put together, because their conclusions are pretty similar.

The longest and strongest of the shorts is last, another familiar Williams location as The Strangest Kind of Romance takes place in a New Orleans boarding house. Twisting further the too-close mother-son relationships of the first two, Beames now casts Patel as a new tenant and Mitchell as a landlady who wants him to pay her in more than just cash. They're joined by Sam Cox as her half-blind, half-mad father-in-law, as well as the show's inevitable scene-stealer: A rather majestic grey cat who's the real love of Patel's character's life.

Patel spends much of the show in a state of undress but there's more than that to recommend Man; Williams' tendency to go over themes that he would deal with better, and in more detail, in other plays, means the playlets themselves never feel essential viewing, but apart from some dodgy accents the performances are gripping. And Beames shows a fine ability to hone in on what's at the heart of the piece; if he can ditch his tendency to unnecessarily draw attention to the anti-naturalistic style (the actors' calls to the stage being broadcast to the audience; Cox being secreted among the audience for a surprise entrance) he should be one to watch.

Man: Summer at the Lake, Auto-da-Fe and The Strangest Kind of Romance by Tennessee Williams is booking until the 21st of February at the Young Vic's Clare (returns only.)

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

1 comment:

  1. 21st Feb: The missus commented on a couple of the actors seeming to loose their accents on odd sentences.

    I made the mistake of picking up the letter on the way to my seat, couldn't read the name out and gave it to the member of staff as I thought someone had dropped it on the stairs. That might have caused a few issues later!!

    The father in law was slightly 'Doc' from Back to the Future, which made me laugh a little but certainly refreshed/mixed up what was getting a little bleak with just a few characters.

    We thought the three parts sat well together and felt in the right order. Overall we really enjoyed it before grabbing some food and waiting for Happy Days.