Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

A Thought in Three Parts

Wallace Shawn
Battersea Arts Centre
(2002)

A Thought in Three Parts is something of an oddity but there are several reasons to take notice of it. Playwright Wallace Shawn is regarded by many as one of the best of his generation. He has had several major parts in arty American films and his plays, Aunt Dan and Lemon, The Fever and The Designated Mourner are all rather strange but each of them has a visceral effect on the viewer.

This play, first produced in the late 1970s, must have led to public protests from Mary Whitehouse and her followers. There is little doubt that anyone would regard the second part as anything but pornographic. There is, however, a reasonably good artistic reason for some of the action although eventually it goes literally over the top.

This new production is directed by the new prodigy, Joseph Hill-Gibbins. He has recently followed top young directors, Mark Rosenblatt (Bread and Butter) and Thea Sharrock (Top Girls) as winner of the James Menzies-Kitchin Memorial Trust Award for best young theatre director of the year. It is clear that he is imaginative and knows how to get good performances out of his young cast.

The first part is set in a hotel bedroom and comprises a seemingly ultra realistic discussion between David and Sarah. They discuss nothings such as the soft furnishings in the room and her frequently changed clothes. The real subject matter appears to be their relationship and the constant power struggle between men and women. Mark Benson is excellent as David. He has a malleable face like Rowan Atkinson's and uses it to convey volumes. Charlotte Lucas is good as the sweet, if unpredictable, Sarah. Their questioning of the meaning of love sets the scene for the evening.

Joseph Hill-Gibbins does well as he has to get the actors timing to a level of perfection as almost no sentence is allowed to run its course and as the actors have to present both sensible but often dull propositions as enthusiastically as wild thoughts.

The second part takes place in two parallel rooms. In one, the kind Judy (Lucas) meets the exceedingly shy Bob (Danny Babington), who is almost unable to ask her to undress - he manages to. They begin to form a sexual partnership and then the focus switches to Dick (Daniel Arden) and Helen (Karen Traynor) in the other room. They are happy to denounce each other but again fall into bed. The action then hots up with weird combinations of couples. Once again, the relationships are paramount as well as the power games that men and women play.

The third part is a little cameo. This relates the thoughts of Mr Frivolous over his breakfast. These are rather eccentric and while their form is reminiscent of Shawn's later work, his words once again convey the difficulties that human beings have in interacting. This works well as Mark Benson's funny faces appear in a kind of window above the stage as God's must have done in productions of the past.

Joseph Hill-Gibbins manages to make all of this appear worthwhile, drawing good performances from the cast and some serious thoughts not to mention laughs from the play.

This is a very strange evening that proves that Joseph Hill-Gibbins richly deserved his award and that Wallace Shawn is a radically different and always interesting playwright. For those that want to see him at his best though, try The Fever or The Designated Mourner.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher