Theatre: On the Fringe
Und Riverside Studios Ay Carmela Riverside Studios High Life The Bush
Wednesday 23 June 1999
The controversial Howard Barker has hit the theatrical world again with a play that delves below the polished facade of a Jewish woman, Und, as she awaits the man who is going to arrest her and imprison her in a camp. She knows she can't keep him out for ever, but prolongs her last minutes of freedom by reciting banal details of her aristocratic life as if they were a spell to assert power over her doom. "Is this fractional lateness merely the first instalment of a significant lateness?" she asks, listening for the first fatal ring at the door. "Cold tea alone ... I prefer it," she confides, slipping into the solipsistic absurdity that heralds the disintegration of her world.
Tomas Leipzig's sinister and arresting set design dominates this Wrestling School production. A minimalist metallic frame suspends a row of trays, bearing household objects, tea-sets, even letter-writing accessories, which drop and sway pendulum-like as Und examines them during the play. Melanie Jessop delivers Barker's characteristic rhetoric with a crystalline musical precision, simultaneously attacking and appealing to the audience. There is a desperate and deeply moving aspect to her attempts to resist a brutal death through values that become more manifestly hollow and decadent the more passionately she clings to them.
Heightened Reality's production of Ay Carmela also deals with violent political oppression, but does not manage to carry it off with such thought- provoking style. Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, it follows two Republican sympathisers and vaudeville performers, Paulino and Carmela, who stumbled across the front-line into fascist territory.
David Johnston has adapted a script that has been performed all over Europe and filmed in 1990 by Carlos Saura but his reduction of the military threat and sense of insidious terror that made the film so atmospheric and engaging, makes the result leaden and lumpy. The actors fail to capitalise on the intimate atmosphere of the space, and shout so much you sometimes feel bludgeoned by the dialogue. Even Eva Eklof's spirited portrayal of the sexually forward, politically passionate Carmela cannot save the evening.
You have the feeling the Canadian Lee MacDougall's first play High Life would also look better on celluloid, but even on stage its powerful cast ensures this portrayal of a morphine-inspired bank-robbery hits where it hurts. The plot creaks as much as the substance-abused bodies of its characters, but the production's energy carries off this hold-up that ends up more of a cock-up.
David Schofield is a dynamic force as Dick the fast-talking ex-jailbird, and Paul Barber encapsulates the explosive violence of Bud, the seasoned psychotic who reaches for gun or knife, when conversation gets awkward. Nigel Planer grabs the laughs as Donny the hypochondriac pining for a fully functioning kidney, but Joe Mackay proves the unfortunate weak link in the chain. This is theatre for Tarantino fans: fast, hard and fun. Look forward to the film.
`Und', (0181-237 1111) to 26 Jun; `Ay Carmela' (0181-237 1111) to 27 Jun, `High Life' (0181-743 3388) to 10 July
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery reports: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Video: Boxer Vido Loncar brutally assaults referee following defeat
Mike Read 'apologises unreservedly' for Ukip Calypso and withdraws it from sale
Disney announces new female-led film Moana
Eight seconds of white noise is top of the Canadian iTunes chart because people love Taylor Swift that much
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Sensitive, silly and sensational
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991 with most Brits wanting to stay in'