Night of the Soul
RSC at the Barbican Pit
David Farr's new play promises much. While it does not quite fulfil, it is constantly intriguing and very well structured. The idea of allowing a 14th century plague victim to haunt a 21st century hotel in the hope that she may be released from purgatory creates many interesting dramatic tensions.
In a set designed by Angela Davies, which comprises the reception desk and a hotel bedroom, together with a pair of lift doors which contain surprises, we are first introduced to Joanna(played by Zoë Waites). She has a 700 year-old guilty secret and has been informed by a visitation from her son that she will only be allowed to die properly when she meets a man who can see her.
Invisibility has its own advantages and Joanna enjoys her non-life as a voyeur. The opening sequence is very funny as we see in the space of a few minutes a typical week in the life of a rather plastic hotel room. The overall impression is of sex and despair.
The latest person to stay at the hotel is Francis Chappell (played by Tom Mannion). He has returned to town after 18 years to attend his father's funeral. His relations with his mother, father and sister are greatly strained and as the play develops, it is easy to see why. While to the outside world, Francis is an unctuous market researcher whose sincerity hardly makes it below the surface, underlying this he too has a guilty secret.
Joanna's problem is that to fulfil her ambition and escape to heaven or hell from her limbo she has to make an honest man of her market researcher. David Farr who also directs the play has a great deal of fun both in portraying the shallow Francis and with Joanna's very modern view of contemporary life.
This play is more than just a light historical comedy. It also explores the nature of guilt and confession drawing interesting parallels between its two time periods. Farr is well served by his cast and, in particular, his two main protagonists balance humour and pathos well. The support, especially from Cherry Morris as his mother, is good and the production is enhanced by music in an early style by Keith Clouston.
The play also offers a real contrast for Tom Mannion, as, for the second time in this RSC season, he delivers a eulogy over a dead man. The contrast between Mark Antony bewailing the death of Caesar and Francis talking of a man with whom he has not made contact in 18 years could not be more stark.
This play contains many interesting concepts and much humour. It also offers insight into the ways in which people behave but, on occasions, it can be a little predictable and makes some of its points without enough subtlety. Despite these faults, it is still well worth sparing an evening for.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher