While so many fringe theatrical eyes turn to Edinburgh for three weeks every August, there are still new events going on in London and elsewhere. Last night, I went to the Shaw Theatre to see two original plays being produced by Anatrope Theatre.
First up was No Comment, written by Amalia Kontesi, who co-directs with Hannah Rees. It tells the story of the French daughter of the British prime minister, who has gone missing. A detective inspector who has been recalled from leave to join the hunt for her eventually finds her, on the brink of suicide. Over the course of a night, she tells her story through a series of flashbacks.
If that sounds an interesting premise on paper, unfortunately it doesn’t really turn out that way on stage. Despite spirited performances from both Zoe Schellenberg and Dominique Pelides, who share the role of the PM’s daughter, the character never elicits much sympathy. She may have lost her mother to an unspecified illness at a young age and then have to live with the father she can barely remember, and who then ignores her in favour of pursuing his political career, but there feels a disconnect between those events and why she should feel the need to throw herself off a balcony.
As the inspector who listens to the girl’s story when she should be attending to sick wife, André Refig is the strongest performer of the ten-strong cast. Ultimately, though, I was left feeling rather non-plussed by the whole piece.
The second one-act play, Peter by George Hull, was more impressive on all counts. It starts with a more interesting premise – a family of Christians, whose eldest son has joined a fundamentalist cult after demonstrating healing powers, calls him back when the mother is diagnosed with cancer. If Peter can use his healing hands on the family cat, wonders his troubled brother, why does he not help cure their mother?
Some of the family dynamic is nicely observed, especially from Josie Bloom as Sandra, the mother. Michael Kenneth Steward’s shambolic, absent-minded father is so full of stops and starts and half-forgotten sentences that it’s either played superbly or awfully, it’s hard to tell.
But it’s the younger son Daniel, who has not so much a chip on his shoulder as a whole deep fat fryer, around whom the family really revolves. His resentment at the idolatry surrounding his absent brother manifests itself as aggression. Neill McReynolds is a tightly coiled spring who feels ready to explode at any minute, often adding tension to scenes where none would otherwise exist and perpetually keeping the audience on its toes. On occasion his delivery doesn’t quite suit the scene, leading to some of the nuances of Hull’s dialogue getting missed.
As Daniel’s friends and peers, Sam Hafez and Catherine Kitsis put in some of the best work of the evening. Hafez’s Saul in particular gets some of the better comedy moments, and he delivers them at exactly the right level.
Sadly, the weakest character in the whole piece is the eponymous Peter. Stan Colomb is perfectly fine as the sackcloth-wearing evangelical, but the role itself is underwritten compared to the build-up prior to his arrival. Indeed, the whole piece suffers from a lack of focus: although Hull’s dialogue crackles with wit and anger, the situations don’t build up with the sort of intensity that early scenes hint at. The inclusion of a mute chorus of “ghost nurses” doesn’t really add anything to the piece either.
As it stands, Peter is a good play that’s begging for further work to be done to it to tighten it up, strengthening the tensions between Peter and Daniel and just being a little bit clearer about which strand of the story is actually the main focus. But it definitely has a future, and it’s a piece I’ll be interested in seeing again in a year or two.