Tag Archives: Article 19

Article 19 presents: ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’

Some plays dissolve with time. As Co-Directors Lily Blacksell and Rebekah Lucking masterfully proved, Peter Nichol’s 1967 play, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, remains pertinent.  This revival was handled with great sensitivity; to the subject matter and the script itself. 

     Nichol’s semi-autobiographical account explores the hardships faced by Bri, a schoolteacher, and his wife Sheila; a young couple raising a disabled child. Upon its original debut, critic Irving Wardle praised Joe Egg for having ‘significantly shifted our boundaries of taste.’ Indeed, this production walked the tightrope between humour and heartbreak. The frequent jokes, such as calling their daughter Joe ‘a living parsnip,’ allowed one to forget, and later question, what you should and should not laugh at; a deft exploration of why humour is so often intertwined with trauma. 

     The opening scene was electric. Standing centre stage, Bri, played by Jacob Lovick, addressed the audience as naughty school children. This provided a nice prologue to the frustrations of Bri’s life, both at work and more importantly at home. Lovick, the highlight of the play for me, was utterly convincing. As he stood there trying to command the attention of a ‘hall of children,’ he was every ridiculed teacher I’d ever had. Throughout the play, everything about his mannerisms and voice was a sigh of defeat. What’s more, he handled the music-hall, old comedy club, style of the play very well. 

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     In her programme notes, Blacksell astutely pointed out ‘there is something terribly British about Bri and Sheila’s resort to comedy to help them deal with Joe’s disability.’ Indeed, as Lovick pranced around on stage like a 1960’s Michael McIntyre, with more depth, whether it was to make fun of Freddie, or to try and seduce his wife, one could not help but feel a strong mix of hilarity and pity. 

     Breaking the fourth wall often takes one out of the story, however in this production it was done so successfully you felt like a confidante of sorts and even, at points, the characters’ psychologist. Finding it easier to confide in the audience than each other, Bri and Sheila replayed key episodes in their life story. This device was especially engaging when Sheila spoke to the audience. A doting, perversely optimistic wife, it soon became clear that she was just playing along with Brian’s jokes and play-acting to keep her husband happy. 

     Phoebe Brown, who played Sheila, presented a deeply moving portrayal of a woman haunted by guilt. Brown evoked such a sense of compassion and in my eyes was the most empathetic character. Brown and Lovick made for a convincing couple; you believed they were in love, despite the complexities of their relationship.

     The second half of the play lurched into Mike Leigh territory, however thankfully never appeared cartoonish. Chloe Culpin expertly played Bri’s Mum, Grace; so uninteresting and self-righteous, the atmosphere instantly became  soporific when she spoke. Dan Burke and Emily Howard were infuriatingly funny as Bri and Sheila’s insensitive friends, Freddie and Pam. Burke’s arm-swinging, pacing the living room as if making a Presidential speech, portrayal of the socialist do-gooder was what was precisely needed to contrast Lovick’s wired Bri. Whilst the social satire might seem a little heavy handed to a modern audience, Pam’s horrific statement, ‘If I say gas chamber that makes it sound horrid – but I do mean put to sleep,’ is as shocking now as it must have been in the sixties, raising relevant questions about disability and euthanasia.

     Rachel Thomas must be commended for handling the role of Josephine with great sensitivity. Her role as a child whose brain does not allow for communicative speech or co-ordinated movement, was never reduced to a caricature. The Directors’ approach of allowing her to remain on stage, and often face the audience, even when not the focus of a scene, was effective. I often found my eyes straying to her, pondering how it must feel to be her, what my coping mechanisms would be if she were my child. Questions not easily resolved, but the beauty of Nichol’s script is that after ten years of caring for her, Brian and Sheila are no closer to understanding either. 

      Everything about this production was finely judged. From the sky-blue wallpaper and the sad, lack-lustre christmas decorations adorning the Ex-Serviceman’s Club stage, an exquisite venue for this play, to the way Joe startlingly skipped out of her wheelchair to announce the interval. A very good egg, indeed.

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Article 19 present: Jerusalem @ The Guild of Students

jerusalem

Article 19’s adaptation, directed by Elisha Owen and Nicole Rixon, was my first taste of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem and it was a distinctly bittersweet one.

Set on St George’s Day in a fictional country village in Wiltshire, the play tells the tale of old, local waster Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron and his motley crew of mates. Away from the country fair celebrations, Rooster has twenty-four hours until he is evicted from his mobile home. Thus the three-hour play, dense with dialogue, passes with the tension of a ticking time bomb.

The short time span and single set made for an absorbing portrait into Rooster’s world. The set’s attention to detail was outstanding and the old caravan, stained sofa and empty beer bottles that greeted the audience gave a taste of what was to come. Staged on the same level as the audience’s seating, the play also created the impression that this was not a performance we were seeing but a slice of real life.

The play boasts an eclectic mix of characters, brilliantly played by an excellent cast. Sam Forbes was especially comical as the whimsical professor who has lost his dog, whilst Ciaran Creswell gave a great performance as Wesley, the straight-laced landlord turned stoned Morris dancer.

However the lead character, in an absorbing performance given by Jack J Fairley, is the hardest character to pin down. Essentially a low-life, surviving on drink and drugs in his squalid caravan, he is certainly not a hero- not even likable. Yet, in comparison to local thug Troy, he is not a villain. Something of an anti-hero, he simultaneously sickens and seduces the audience- just as his eloquent words and magnetism wins a kiss from his ex-wife, Dawn. In his battle against the district council to evict him, we instinctively fall on his side- but uneasily so.

Most mesmerising of all, for me, was Rooster’s seeming inability to grow up and his refusal to take responsibility for his actions, from his six-year old son to his smashed up TV. When his friends tell him he smashed it up himself the night before he replies, as he does to anything they accuse him of, ‘Bollocks!’ His crew of teenage companions further reflects this character trait and it is ambiguous whether he corrupts or protects them- plying them with drink and drugs, but providing them with a space where they feel safe.  The audience begins to lean towards the latter as the play unfolds, especially as it begins to appear that Rooster is being used. For me, the play’s most painfully sad moment was when local thug Troy laughed as he told Rooster how his so called friends pissed on him whilst he was passed out. And whilst he is certainly not fit to be a parent, the tender moments with his son persuade us that he is essentially a good man and that society is the monster.

Whilst Jerusalem is ultimately a play that explores ‘Englishness’, for me it was more about the dullness and disillusionment that accompanies growing old. The character of Lee, who is set to leave for Australia the next day, highlights the stagnant nature of the other character’s lives- particularly Rooster’s.

The play ends ambiguously, with the constant overbearing pressure of the eviction never fully resolved. I left after three hours feeling absolutely overwhelmed and utterly confused. As such, my first experience of Jez Butterworth’s work is one I’m still trying to make sense of.

By Ellicia Pendle
@elliciapendle

Article 19 Present: The Children’s Hour @ The Custard Factory

the children's hour

Imagine you and your best friend spending hours aligning dominoes up to make a new picture for yourselves and suddenly someone comes over and with one whisper causes one of the domino pieces to fall, forcing all of them to be splattered out of shape. And that’s just what The Children’s Hour is about. Except these aren’t small, plastic pieces that are falling instead it’s the lives of Martha Dobie (played by Chloe Culpin) and Karen Wright (played by Katherine Grayson), which are disrupted by that one whisper, or better yet, the one lie created by Mary Tilford (played by Catherine Butler).

Martha Dobie and Karen Wright are two American best friends who over the years have managed to build their own all-girls boarding school which they live and teach at. Set in the 1930’s Martha and Karen run the school with the addition of Karen’s superfluous aunt Lily Mortar (played by Marni Elder). Moving along we see Karen and Martha teach, discipline and help the girls sturdily in the school, which Mortar breaks up with laughable anecdotes from her non-existent famous life as an actress early in her career. Eventually the surly child Mary, after months of weaning herself from firm discipline at the hands of the teachers, manages to run away to her grandmother. From there she begins creating an elaborate lie that Karen and Martha are engaging in a lesbian affair to her grandmother which sets off a spin of events causing havoc on the teachers’ lives.

We see both of the female leads unravel slowly as they’re plagued by deceit and their own neurological weaknesses. It’s a dark and sinister tale in contrast to the school girl atmosphere. The play itself was like exploring a huge web of lies, having to face societal and cultural issues attached with homosexuality in workplaces. This entwined with the different displays of femininity created a thrilling presentation. And Lily Mortar’s and Rosalie’s (played by Nicole Rixon) comedic skills at the helm balanced the performance out.

And then we have Mary Tilford a completely abhorrent child. Assertive, brutish, loud, boisterous and with an uncanny way for theatrics. With no morals, no sense of pity or justice and just a hard-hearted way with life, Mary helps weave this elaborate display of lies and, just like a ready huntress, she pulls the trigger and creates havoc on everyone’s lives. She’s not likeable and throughout the play she elicits the worst anger you could possibly muster up whilst seated in the theatre, but that was the beauty of the play, she was electrifying, villainous down to a tee.

Mostly it was refreshing to see so many female characters that actually drive the action of the play. With consideration to the lack of parts there are for women even now, the play is a rarity in theatre productions. But it’s also a portrayal of the tragic effects a child can have in an adult’s world and how far one little lie can cause someone’s life to literally crumble on the stage.

By Shantok Jetha