London

Simon Stephens

Paines Plough, Live Theatre and Salisbury Playhouse

Live Theatre, Newcastle

From 30 October 2012 to 10 November 2012

Review by Peter Lathan

London comprises two of Simon Stephens’s short plays: T5, first produced by DryWrite Theatre Company at the Roundhouse in Camden in 2008 before moving to the Traverse in Edinburgh as part of Traverse Live! in 2010, and Seawall, premiered at the Bush in 2008 before transferring to the Traverse for the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe. This Paines Plough production, directed by George Perrin, brings the two together for the first time.

Both are one-person plays and they are played without an interval. Each protagonist has faced and is struggling to come to terms with massive emotional trauma and Perrin has chosen to approach them in very different ways.

For T5 the audience wears headphones as the lights come up on an unnamed woman (played by Abby Ford) sitting on a bed in front of a large net-covered window through which bright light shines. We listen to her restless thoughts and watch her equally restless movements as she relives the effects on her of watching a teenage boy being stabbed to death in a park near her home: the long interview with the police; a Tube journey across London with senses heightened to Heathrow; the confusion and the trauma.

The effect of the headphones is to put us inside her head. Cleverly the change in the quality of the sound as she occasionally speaks (or sings) aloud emphasises the intimacy, the sense of being inside her head, and so we feel the impact of the event and share, as if at first hand, the trauma.

And when the play comes to an end, the window drops to be hidden behind the rostrum on which she was performing, the stage crew come on and remove the furniture, leaving a bare stage with the window light rig in clear sight, as she removes the brunette wig she was wearing and the net which restrained her longer, blonde hair before walking off.

Real intimacy followed by a very Brechtian sense of alienation which only serves to intensify of the emotion.

Seawall begins without any preamble as its protagonist, Alex (Cary Crankson), walks on and begins addressing the audience directly. He is an engaging, personable man, talking with humour and joy about finding the love of his life, meeting her father, having a beloved daughter (including a graphic, although amusingly told, description of the caesarian which brought the child into the world), so that we slip almost unnoticed into the great trauma which he has to bear.

Both Ford and Crankson give assured and convincing performances under Perrin’s tight direction and left the audience pretty traumatised. This is a really good pairing of two powerful plays and the very different presentation styles add enormously to the impact.