The Jermyn Street Theatre is just about to embark on an ambitious 11-week festival which will encompass both live in theatre and streamed performances. Called Footsteps it will feature new work and some “greatest hits” and kicks off on 17 May. As a curtain raiser to this a new play from Shaun McKenna called Rocky Road has been filmed there and is showing via stream.theatre; it is well worth checking out.
It’s a noirish moody thriller which centres on two damaged souls linked by a single act of violence from their joint pasts, which overlapped briefly, that has come to define their present existence. Zoe rents a flat in Streatham where Danny is the block manager; but Zoe isn’t Zoe and Danny isn’t Danny. She (Robyn) has come there to track down a man responsible for a random knife attack which has left her physically and mentally scarred and in an attempt to find an answer to the key question why. He (Paul) having served a jail sentence for the violence is trying to eradicate his past life by starting over though he doesn’t seem to be making much of a go of it.
A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues though the identity of these two creatures is kept fluid too. She knows who he is, but does he recognise her? He feels attracted to her but is what is being reciprocated genuine or just a ploy … and does that change? Is a pre-calculated act of retribution morally any sounder than a random act of violence? As the two characters engage in a mutual dance of death McKenna laces his well-written script with references to Platonian Twin Flame philosophy: “When a person meets the half that is his very own something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another, and by desire, and they don’t want to be separated from one another, not even for a moment”. It’s important to hang onto this notion in order to make sense of the denouement which might otherwise seem a bit anti-climactic.
The protagonists receive two great interpretations from Kirsten Foster and Tyger Drew-Honey, especially when alone in their rooms we become privy to the real nature of their personas. Foster brings a brittle cheerfulness to her character’s created role of Zoe, a Bake Off fan who specialises in making the confection referenced by the title. This is a seductive bar loaded with goodies but also containing hard nuts which are tough to crack – and if that isn’t symbolically intended I don’t know what is. When she removes her wig and becomes Robyn though, we start to realise her embittered nature as she not only obsesses about her attacker but also about another man who let her down badly; we begin to wonder would he be next?
Meanwhile Drew-Honey draws a complex and mostly understated picture of a man tormented by his past and indeed by his present unable to rationalise what he did and instead turning to self-harm as a means of dealing with his pain. He shambles around the stage, shoulders hunched, speaking only when he has to and then in monosyllables. However, there is also the defining moment when, unobserved, he howls and rages in pain and we get to see his internal hurt externalised. It is both a thrilling and chilling moment.
Anyone who has ever been to the Jermyn Street Theatre will know that it is very intimate and often has to make ingenious use of the limited space at its disposal. The need to have two separate flats is got over brilliantly by designer Ceci Calf who simply conflates the two into one and overlaps them – that this also picks up the twin souls idea does the unity of the piece no harm either. There is also intelligent use of changing projections of pictures into the fixed frames which delineates not only location but also the psychological changes which are occurring. The lighting plot by Ryan Joseph Stafford strikingly evokes film noir of the 1940s although the ominous soundscape from Dan Samson seems a little too heavy handed. Steven Kunis’s direction goes for a slow burn in the first half but really ramps up the tension in Act 2 particularly in the edgy dinner sequence as Robyn/Zoe’s own act of criminality starts to unfold as Gene Kelly croons in the background. This last repeated trope left me a little baffled; the only connection I could make was that Stanley Kubrick tried a similar idea in A Clockwork Orange where the violence was also played out to the refrain of Singin’ In The Rain.
As with Danny/Paul’s “pet”, the play takes a bit of time to emerge from its chrysalis and take flight but there is more than enough to enjoy in the narrative, the characterisation and the production for you to put this onto your “to watch” list. With some subtle Hitchcock references and more than a hint of Sam Shephard about it, Rocky Road, like its confectionery counterpart, is a sweet moreish treat with some hidden surprises.