Tag Archives: Danny Hetherington

Infinity Stage Company Presents: In Arabia We’d All Be Kings @ The Guild of Students

In Arabia

I’ve seen Stephen Adly Guirgus’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (and loved it) so I was intrigued to see what his earlier work, In Arabia We’d All be Kings would be like. What is evident is that Guirgis is a writer who loves character: plot falls to the side so that his characters can take centre stage. The most dramatic events are only reported to the audience; the human condition is what this playwright is bothered about.

Arabia follows a group of people in downtown New York. There is no space for them: there’s little to no work, no welfare for the poor or troubled, and certainly no sense of loyalty. Guirgus provides a gritty depiction of a nineties dog-eat-dog New York, in which drugs and sex are a form of escapism, but are simultaneously the very things trapping the characters. Every character seems to be in a Catch-22: to be happy, you need money, but to get money, you need to do some horrific things; prostitution and drug addiction are rife among Guirgus’s characters.

What is interesting about the script is that it allows a range of emotions from the audience. There are moments that are evidently meant to be comical, and ones that are serious, but then there are moments in which the audience’s intended reaction is ambiguous: moments that I found harrowing, in which I pitied the characters, where moments that others found humorous.

Perhaps this is a testament to the cast: perhaps some members of the audience were driven to uncomfortable laughter. Whatever the reason, it can’t be argued that directors Jack Fairley and Andy Baker found a stellar cast for their production (who all mastered the New York accent). Gurguis’s plays don’t really have ‘main characters’, so each actor has to work particularly hard to impress during their scene.

Guirgus is obviously a fan of having someone onstage at all times – Judas is constantly present in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot­ – at it is incredibly impressive to be in character for so long; compliments must therefore go to Ben Firth. He played Sammy, an aged alcoholic and possible drug addict, incredibly well, providing humour and poignancy with skill.

Danny Hetherington was an excellent choice for Skank: his movements and mannerisms were convincing, and his manic laughter in the penultimate scene of the play was unsettling. Guild Drama newcomer Nathan Hawthorne played Lenny, a man recently released from prison. He deftly handled his character’s anger, but was also able to convincingly communicate his vulnerability. Ben Norris gave an impressive and sensitive performance as Greer. When playing a homosexual man, it would be easy to offer a clichéd portrayal. Norris, however, dealt with this carefully, making Greer a man that would exaggerate parts of his personality to exploit others. The scenes between Norris and Hetherington were particularly sad to watch.

For a play with a mainly male cast, the women really stole the show. My favourite character was Chickie, and this is a testament to Phoebe Brown’s acting prowess. I truly believed that she was a drug addict, from her nervous movements to her child-like, heart-breaking optimism at thought of being free from her addiction. My two favourite scenes involved Brown: firstly, the interaction between Chickie and Charlie, the bartender (played fantastically by Calum Fraser), was touching and strangely romantic. Her later scene with Demaris (played by Charis Jardam), a no-nonsense teenager old was particularly poignant: here we were given a tragic glimpse into the women’s hope for a better future. Jardam’s attitude and delivery were perfect for her character, making this scene the standout of the play.

The production team of the play had evidently worked hard to create an authentic atmosphere for the play: the genuine bar helped to create a sense of verisimilitude, but it was really the costume that stood out. The women’s outfits and make-up would have been particularly nostalgic for several women in the audience, which made the play even more uncomfortable to watch.

While Arabia seems to lack something that Judas has – perhaps an emotionally devastating monologue – it is still nothing short of an entertaining and thought-provoking play; however, it is the work of this particular cast and crew that held this production together, and made it undoubtedly successful. 

By Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

Advertisements

Infinity Stage Company Present: Mercury Fur @ The Guild of Students

mercury furHaving seen more than my fair share of plays, whether they are professional or student productions, I judge the quality of a show by how quickly I want to write my review after it (even if I’m not technically reviewing). It’s 11.18 pm and I finished watching Mercury Fur about an hour ago. I probably would have sat down sooner if I wasn’t physically shaking.

Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur has a history of controversy: famously banned by Faber & Faber, this play follows a set of closely intertwined characters in an almost-apocalyptic world in which butterflies are drugs and ‘party’ is synonymous with your darkest fantasies. The characters spew lines of racist slurs, beat each other and themselves, and draw the audience into their intense relationships.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting scripts I have witnessed. The characters are so distinct (with the intentional exception of the Party Piece) and complex, each simultaneously lost in a state almost akin to childhood, and sadistic. Ridley is able to showcase his prowess by writing Elliot’s insults as epic similes; this is highlighted by his ability to then undercut this often satirical and humorous style with a conversation wrought with emotion.

 I am extremely passionate about ‘in-yer-face’ theatre: Ravenhill’s and Kane’s plays are on my shelves, and yet I have unfortunately not been able to see them performed. To call a text ‘in-yer-face’ seems to miss the point, I have realised after tonight’s Mercury Fur. What makes it so disturbing, so violating, is actually being in the presence of it.

Director Jacob Lovick absolutely understood the importance of this. Staged in the basement rehearsal room of the Guild, the audience was instantly removed from the student bubble and into a dingy flat strewn with the signs of depleting life. The play utilised the whole space, creating a sense of claustrophobia: the characters moved around the audience, absorbing them into the world of the play. The lack of interval was also a nice touch (a la Shopping and F***ing): there was no escape from the unrelenting emotions.

 It really does take a stellar cast to pull off a play like this: get it slightly wrong, and the uncomfortableness you’re trying to create will be plain awkward. This cast not only succeeded in making me cry a grand total of three times (which is quite a feat; I’ve only ever cried at five films and maybe one play), but made me feel physically uncomfortable: I couldn’t sit back in my chair, I wanted to escape and stay simultaneously, my skin was crawling and I was shaking at the end of the performance.

 I was utterly astounded by the quality of the acting in this production; not only did I forget that I was watching a play in the Guild, I forgot that I was watching students act. Calum Witney was by far the stand-out member of this cast. His accent and ability to master Elliot’s swings of emotion was phenomenal. Ben Firth also made an excellent Darren: he was able to capture his naivety and pure adoration of Elliot. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Witney and Firth; I truly believed in their bond as brothers, not only through Ridley’s writing, but the actors’ execution of it.

When Naz was introduced into the mix, I instantly prickled: Ridley introduces a character that is quite frankly annoying. However, Alice Hodgson made her loveable. I felt sincere concern for the character, and was utterly horrified when I realised her fate. Additionally, Hodgson’s performance of Naz’s monologues and her character post-torture were incredibly convincing and very distressing to watch.

David Williams was a genius choice for Lola. The text calls for a man to play this part, but at times Williams’s mannerisms and expressions were so convincing I almost forgot his sex. The chemistry between Witney and Williams was also entirely believable, and I found the scenes between the characters incredibly touching.

Daisy Tudor was fantastic as The Duchess, deftly exploring her character’s tortured mental state through carefully selected movements and delivery of lines. Pairing her with Danny Hetherington as Spinx was also a brilliant move: while I was oddly intrigued by and pitying of The Duchess, Spinx’s devotion to her was unsettling, and Hetherington’s ability to switch into Spinx’s sadistic mode was excellent. Jack Fairley still made an impression with his minor role: the Party Guest was utterly creepy and disgusting from the moment he stepped into the room, let alone when he revealed his dark fantasy.

The crew of this production must also be praised highly: the effects and make-up used in the play were very convincing; I felt entirely immersed in the world of Mercury Fur.

The point of in-yer-face theatre is to push its audience to the very limits. There were points during the performance where I really wanted to leave but was oddly impelled to stay. What I struggled with was my desire to stop it – I really did feel like it was all unfolding around me – and also the range of emotions I experienced: at one moment I would be disturbed and sickened; a matter of seconds later, I would be laughing, and I felt incredibly unnerved  by this. This is why I love plays like Mercury Fur: at the end, I feel like someone has reached inside my body, pulled something out and made me really look at it. With in-yer-face theatre, the audience is made to look at themselves and assess how they would act in certain situations or evaluate their behaviour and emotions. There is betrayal at every level in this play, sadism, cruelty, anger, and love. It is a truly exceptional example of postmodern nihilism and an intense exploration of the human state, and I (strangely) loved every minute of it.

by Jenna Clake
@jennaclake