Double Feature, Paintframe: National Theatre, London
Thursday 11 August 2011
This is the first time I have heard a version of "The Girl from Ipanema" in which the percussionist sports goggles and paint-spattered white overalls and provides a beat by sawing at a plank of wood. But then this is the first time the National has opened its Paintframe, a hangar of a workshop next to the Cottesloe, for a sort of mini-Fringe comprised of two double bills of hour-long plays by young dramatists.
Double Feature is the NT's answer to pop-up theatre, with a viewing platform that allows you to survey the skill with which the designer Soutra Gilmour has reconfigured this industrial space. For Sam Holcroft's sharp-witted Edgar and Annabel, the audience is confronted, end-on, with a spotlessly bland fitted kitchen and a couple (the excellent Trystan Gravelle and Kirsty Bushell) who read out banal marital conversations from typed-up scripts. The absurdism of Ionesco merges with Orwellian satire as we realise that these are resistance fighters in a house bugged for sound by the authorities. Hilariously strained karaoke evenings cover the making of Molotov cocktails and the couple's attempts to depart from the soap-opera plot of their life result in a brutal crackdown.
The director Lyndsey Turner also accentuates the surreal comic fizz and underlying sadness of There Is a War, by Tom Basden, in the second double bill. This is Brechtian epic rewritten with droll bite as a string of (slightly repetitive) Kafkaesque TV comedy sketches. The author plays an Evelyn Waugh innocent who winds up, through bureaucratic idiocy, revered as the key general in a civil conflict whose only point is to keep the war machine in business.
If the admirable DC Moore is below par with the EastEnders-like The Swan (set just before the wake of a philanderer), the newcomer Prasanna Puwanarajah finds a marvellously incisive metaphor for the strains in second-generation identity in Nightwatchman. Stephanie Street's mettlesome yet insecure Abirami prepares to play for England at Lord's by practising with a bowling machine that seems to have been taken over by the spirit of her father, who failed to stand against Tamil Tiger terrorism.
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