The Room, Richmond
Shoe-fetishism is just one of the peculiar practices inhabiting the darker reaches of Judy Upton's dramatic imagination. Her last play, the award- winning Ashes and Sand, unravelled around a rotten policeman's stiletto collection. , a darkly eloquent excavation of basic family values, is carefully arranged around conflicting claims on a pair of black leather boots.
Tracking the twisted relationship between the eponymous and his disabled niece Kelly, Upton picks at notions of perspective with a bleak, wry wit. What, she elliptically asks, does it mean to step into another person's boots? As flicks through assorted home movies and family photographs in an increasingly surreal attempt to find the key to other people's emotions, the consequences of different ways of seeing, mismatched desire and familial neglect are grimly revealed.
Upton's writing is seeped in minutely observed detail and infused with an oblique psychological accuracy that gives it a compelling, jagged edge. At times her narrative contortions are difficult to follow and some of the dialogue needs fine-tuning. At her best, though, she evokes a strangely affecting world brought into sharp focus in Sophie Boyack's production which delicately exploits the play's tonal variations and leaves just the right amount to the mind's eye. Colin R Campbell as the scavenging stands out from an impressive cast.
Betrayal / The Double
Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow
Perhaps as an allusion to the costly stage machinery of the National Theatre in which it was first performed, director David Fielding extravagantly endows his Citizens' Theatre production of Harold Pinter's Betrayal with a circular portion of revolving stage. Hardly necessary, you might think, for a small, in-the-round studio. And, in true South Bank style, the ostentatious device nearly ruined the show on the first night.
As publisher Jerry (Gerrard McArthur) and his gallery-owning ex-lover Emma (Amanda Elwes) traded banalities over a bottle of hock in the opening scene, the shifting floor beneath them began to squeak and whimper like an ill-fed dog. For the next few minutes, both actors and audience struggled hard to keep a straight face. Luckily, McArthur and Elwes kept their balance and the technical fault miraculously disappeared, but it was an unsettling introduction to one of Pinter's less durable works.
Betrayal's central trick of depicting a triangular love relationship backwards (from its decline to inception) is clever and very sensible in dramatic terms, for it allows the action to build to a kind of emotional peak. But it also feels manipulative and artificial, a smart cover for a hollow plot.
Hollow characters too. Publishers and best friends Jerry and Robert (Michael Jenn) are a couple of classic Pinter male monsters, arrogant, selfish, emotionally inhibited but also, unusually for Pinter, implausibly insensitive and stupid. Betrayal's best moments come when it approaches satire, Pinter kicking against the pricks of London's cosy, incestuous literary world, where degrees of male intimacy are measured in lunches and games of squash. Ostensibly a story of marital infidelity, Betrayal is much more interested in the treacherous ambiguities of male relationships, leaving Emma a mere cipher in the proceedings, although Amanda Elwes joins the dots with admirable warmth.
Fielding's clean-cut production is never less than competent, lacking somewhat in the convincingly relaxed self-assurance of metropolitan affluence and authority, but let down in the end by a Pinter play that prefers to stay smart and cute rather than sharp.
Downstairs in the Citizens' tiny Stalls Studio, Jon Pope gives us his adaptation of Dostoevsky's novel The Double.
This disturbing story of a conscientious minor bureaucrat Jacob Golyadkin, whose life is turned upside down by the appearance of his doppelgnger, is interpreted in rich, Gothic style. Beatrice Comins and Michelle Gomez rustle about menacingly in long black dresses as a narrating double-act (and as Golyadkin's Doctor, Janitor, Amour and Boss). A general ambience of the occult (lots of candle-encircled skulls etc) never lets us forget that we are in the presence of psychological allegory, but Brendan Hooper plays Golyadkin's decline from sanity with touching sincerity, becoming finally unhinged by the malicious activities of Eric MacLennan's eerily soft-spoken Doppelgnger.
Although radically filleted by Pope's adaptation, The Double's narrative remains cumbersome, but the intensity of the performances and Pope's quirky, inventive directing and design ensure that the production never loses its hold on your attention.