Monday, 5 June 2017

Theatre review: Other People

DISCLAIMER: Drama school productions are technically amateur productions, but I try to review them like anything else as the cast will be hoping to go on to professional work next.

LAMDA has opened its new building, including two specially-built stages, and in my occasional trips to try and spot the stars of the future a revival of Christopher Shinn’s – he of the much-loved Now or Later and the rather unloved Teddy Ferrara – second play caught my eye. Written in 2000 but set over Christmas 1997, Other People’s pop culture references, particularly numerous nods to the film Men in Black, make it something of a period piece. Wannabe playwright Stephen (Max Loban) shares a flat with his friend Petra (Alexandra Jiménez,) who’s just returned from a lucrative job stripping in Japan, and has continued to do so now she’s back, even though she doesn’t need the money. They agree to let Stephen’s ex-boyfriend Mark (Eduard Buhac,) a filmmaker who developed a drug habit while he was in Hollywood, stay on their couch when he gets out of rehab. It’s largely because Stephen is still in love with him and hopes to rekindle something, but it seems unlikely once Mark turns out to have found religion in a big way while in rehab, and appears to be more interested in his Bible than sex.

But Mark’s not as good at avoiding temptation as he pretends, and his first attempt to help someone in need is to invite hustler Tan (Isaiah Ellis) back to the apartment.

Matt Peover’s production opens very strongly, with Loban quickly grabbing the attention as the camp, self-involved Stephen, given endless comic monologues to deliver while Jiménez complements his performance with her little asides whenever her character can get a word in edgeways. The handsome Buhac makes a good third side to the central triangle as long as his character keeps up the façade of serenity, and Ellis is a likeable interloper to their world. Shinn loses the plot around the midway point though as the comedy turns abruptly to drama: The subplot in which Petra is paid by a wealthy businessman (Vincent Lai) to share her rather pretentious thoughts on everything has a tendency to kill the pace stone dead.

Although there’s a lot of talent on show here – all of the cast seem ready to fit into a professional production – there’s also an obvious inexperience in how to deal with the lack of atmosphere that comes from a small audience. Past drama school performances I’ve seen have tended to be packed with other students, and perhaps the school are still figuring oiut how to fill two auditoria simultaneously as the studio – the space it most reminded me of was Hampstead Downstairs, especially as Nate Gibson has configured it in traverse for his fairly inventive design – was relatively quiet tonight. It wasn’t a problem while the laughs were coming but once the uneven story made the pace drop the cast found it hard to ramp it back up again; the somewhat leisurely scene changes don’t help matters.

Of course paradoxically this could be a good thing from a training point of view – in professional theatre they'll have performances where the audience barely outnumber the cast, and the only way to prepare for their particular demands is to experience them. This is still for the most part an entertaining evening, and the cast work well with a pretty tricky show – but in showing lives in all their messiness Other People ends up a bit too messy itself.

Other People by Christopher Shinn is booking until the 7th of June at LAMDA’s Carne Studio.

Running time: 2 hours straight through.

Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

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