Old Red Lion Theatre, London – until 21 March 2020
Guest reviewer: Ed Whitfield
The Old Red Lion’s put together an interesting triptych of plays that, if you’re short for time, allow you to experience the gamut of human experience, freeing you up to live an uncomplicated and thoughtless life.
If there’s a theme, it’s crisis, anxiety – dread and self-appraisal in the face of death.
Buried is David Spencer’s monologue recounting his father’s wartime experiences. Performed by James Demaine, the character’s grandson, complete with full ire-rich brogue, it begins with Max, buried in the rubble of a Salerno hotel following a German attack. From there we bounce around his life, listening to his earnest (and simple) reflections on faith, sex, patriotism, and death.
The programme notes talk about something called “the molecular theory of fiction”. To you and me that’s the uncontroversial idea that fiction fills the gaps left by memory’s partial rendering of events. Theatre adds its own unreal dimension, you might think – a heightening of sense, retroactive sentiment, but it’s a committed performance from Demaine; a portrait of a life, albeit one painted using broad strokes.
Max Saunders-Singer’s Graceland, the most enjoyable play of the evening, is a darkly-comic one act drama, pitting Anthony Cozens’ dissembled chemistry teacher against an inquisitive and unruly class who’ve heard some lewd rumours about his personal life.
To say more would spoil the show’s moments of pathos and revelation, but it’s a succinct and morbidly funny portrayal of an emasculated man, with an inherited inferiority complex, battling against the callous judgement of the kids, and his failure to inculcate in them, and perhaps anyone, the values of curiosity and propriety that one senses shaped the character’s youthful (now comprehensively crushed) idealism. Saunders-Singer wrote the piece on the back of a memory in which he and his peers “destroyed” a Maths supply teacher. Given her former subject, it’s unlikely she’d take any comfort from the artistic afterthought.
Nuclear War was an incoherent voiding of the id when I last saw it at the Royal Court, and the good news for fans of free association and the libidinous interpretation of incident, is that it still is. Simon Stephens’ text remains an open invitation to perform this act of existential queefing any way you want, and Alexander Knott and Georgia Richardson’s production does just that – reimagining it as a study in duality, of both brain hemispheres and none, with Freya Sharp and Zoe Grain, moving and talking in tandem, as they repeatedly squirt on stage (figuratively speaking), pelting the audience with the residue from the playwright’s furious orgasm.
What’s it about? Everything. Nothing. Life. Death. Coffee and Waffles. When it finally ends, performers and audience exhausted, especially the heterosexual man in the third row chided for failing to get an erection for his male lover, it’s the waffling that stays with you.
All in all, an enjoyable evening of chin-stroking and pint sipping.