Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Theatre review: Jam

In Matt Parvin’s first full-length play Jam, Bella Soroush (Jasmine Hyde) is a teacher at one of the high schools in a rural part of the South West. She used to teach at the other local school until an incident with a pupil, Kane McCarthy, ten years earlier. It was an event that scarred her and nearly ended her career, but she got back on track, and is alone at her new school one night, marking papers when Kane (Harry Melling) breaks in with a baseball bat. He says he isn’t going to harm her and she lets him have his say, but she’s clearly still afraid and no wonder: A chaotic presence at 13, with ADHD, dyslexia and an obsession with elaborate pranks, he still seems volatile at 23. He says he’s returned now because he’s got a brain tumour and has been given six months to live, and wants to tie up loose ends in his life; his story is detailed but Bella isn’t quite prepared to accept it isn’t a new and particularly dark practical joke.

Whatever the real motive behind Kane returning to confront their history together that’s what they do, in an awkwardly polite encounter that barely conceals the real animosity underneath.

Emma Bailey’s set is somewhere between a thrust and a traverse, a strip of red scaffolding reminiscent of a playground climbing frame (or maybe it’s leftover bits of the old Tricycle auditorium,) that doesn’t try to create a naturalistic classroom and extends into the way Tommo Fowler directs his actors: They circle each other on the narrow stage, Melling clambering up the frame when his character gets particularly agitated, looming down on Hyde in a reflection of how the balance of power between them has shifted. It’s a lot for the two actors to do and they hold the interest for a little under two hours, Melling unpredictable and a bit otherworldly (once again I thought that he’d be perfect for his grandfather’s old job one day*) and Hyde countering with a barely-maintained calm.

Parvin’s play is built around throwing everything into question, as Kane delivers his sob story and Bella has to choose which parts, if any of it, to believe, but the event from ten years earlier is filtered through memory for both of them, so her version of what happened is to be treated with as much scepticism as his. Fowler’s expressionistic production only adds a further layer questioning exactly what we’re seeing, with the violence in the characters’ emotions sometimes being expressed physically – the credits list two fight directors, which makes it one per actor, so this is very much a play that’ll be remembered for its uncomfortable physicality.

It’s this visual element in what could have been a very static play that avoids it becoming an overlong confrontation, which inevitably has to keep putting off the whole point of their reunion. The way Fowler’s matched the physicality and visuals to what essentially amounts to a single conversation is what makes the evening intriguing.

Jam by Matt Parvin is booking until the 17th of June at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Mathew Foster.

*obviously let Michaela Coel do it first

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