Lela & Co at the Jerwood Upstairs, The Royal Court
22nd September, 2015
‘As for what came next, things unspoken and untold until now, it happened like this…’
Once upon a time fairy tales weren’t meant just for children and neither is Cordelia Lynn’s Royal Court debut play, ‘Lela & Co’. It’s like a subversive 90 minutes take on a traditional fairy story. We join Lela (Katie West) in her mind; a surreal world of neon lights, leather furniture, plush red curtains and black and white floor. Lela is dressed in a tutu, swings in her rattan chair, speaking in a thick Yorkshire accent.
At first, Lela’s monologue is lyrical and excitable as she introduces us to her childhood, when she lived with sisters, Em and Elle, together with her parents and grandmother. Lela warns us, she will be telling ‘the whole truth’ and as she does, her narrative darkens. When her sister Elle marries a man called Jay, the 15-year-old Lela is ‘married’ off on one of his ‘business associates’, and taken abroad to an unnamed country. Lela is abused by her husband, and then in her innocence, she is `passed on’ from hand to hand passed onto his friends as a sex slave, finally sold to anyone willing to pay. Her world contracts rapidly until it is the size of a dirty mattress. In one moment of the darkest humour, their marital relationship is presented as if it was a business: Lela & Co. Concurrent with this are ethnic tensions which result in armed struggle, bombings, shootings and invasions. War might be bad for business, but Lela’s husband has learnt to exploit the needs of soldiers, prostituting his wife and making money.
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‘Red Lion’ at The Dorfman Theatre
19th September, 2015
This isn’t a church; it’s a ‘business!
How timely is this production in the light of the attributed corruption of the FIFA scandal! We know how elite football operates these days. ‘Red Lion’ forces us to reassess the beautiful game through the backstage politics of the game and the darker side of England’s most popular sport.
Partick Marber’s play inhabits Anthony Ward’s plausible set – a grimy changing room of a struggling semi-professional club who have been on a recent winning streak but have just had their best player poached by a rival team. Ironically, the club’s pitch is located over a plague pit – a perfect verbal playground for betrayal. Here we have three of life’s male casualties who find support and stability in the beleaguered club and each other: the unscrupulous, motor-mouthed manager, Kidd (Daniel Mays) is excited about a talented new recruit, Jordan (Calvin Demba) who wants to play for the team. The kit man and ex-Manager, Yates (Peter Wight) enthuses, too, but has a fatherly concern for Jordan and wants to make sure he is nurtured properly. All wrestle over the future of the club.
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‘And Then Come The Nightjars’
At Theatre 503
15th, September, 2015
‘You hardly ever see ’em, only hear them. They fly silent.
It’s bad luck is Nightjars. It’s a bird o’ death.’
Ironically, I have been recently listening to ‘The Reunion’ during which Sue MacGregor interviews five people whose lives and livelihoods were dramatically changed by the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001. The devastating effects of the pandemic which saw the slaughter of four million animals, the virtual closure of the countryside and the postponement of a general election provide a backdrop for Bea Roberts’ extraordinarily moving picture of male friendship over twelve years and a British tragedy.
The play’s unusual and aptly chosen title serves as a metaphor for doom. Nightjars are short-billed birds known for their distinctive ‘chirring’ call, and considered unlucky. In some parts of Britain they have traditionally had the nickname ‘goatsuckers’, thanks to the belief that they drink livestock dry, and they’re also reputed to infect calves with a deadly disease. So Roberts’ play is a raw reminder of just how devastating the disease was. For a farmer such as Michael, a man who has invested his life in the welfare of his animals, rendered helpless before a faceless government bureaucracy that declares that even apparently healthy cattle must be killed, it is so heart-breaking.
The immediate impact as the audience awaits the start of the play is designer, Max Dorey’s set – a meticulously conceived barn in Devonshire, light spilling through the slatted ceiling; he has such a precise eye for detail, for weathering and decay; Sally Ferguson’s lighting marks time with a subtle cycle through days and nights and seasons.
Following the death of his wife Sheila, Michael devotes himself to his prize-winning herd of cows, each named after members of the Royal Family, and eventually has to lose them: ‘we lost Camilla to the bloat in February’. Friend and local vet, Jeff is a shadowed reminder of the disease recently discovered on a neighbouring farm: foot and mouth; a whole herd slaughtered and set to burn. Paul Robinson sensitively directs the friendship between Michael (David Fielder) and Jeff (Nigel Hastings) is savagely funny and sad. The humour derives from various sources: a lament for a vanishing countryside, a tradition of farming challenged by conglomerates, second-homers, Grand Design barn conversions
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