Theatre: On the Fringe
Wednesday 23 September 1998
The fact that this comedy of manners is so little known to us might be adduced to its lack of artistic merit and/or the vagueness surrounding its status as a dramatic "first": after all, a glance at a reference book tells us that the first play performed in English-speaking America was The Bear and the Cub, in Virginia in 1665, and that many other plays were penned prior to the War of Independence.
What Upstart Crow's eminently watchable production suggests is that, if The Contrast has been overlooked over here, it is not because it is a poor endeavour, but because it is so markedly an endeavour.
Rather than putting his name to it, Tyler, a lawyer and soldier, attributed it to "A citizen of the United States" and the work is a tentative fathoming out of what it might mean to be such a citizen. He also follows a British model while attempting to turn away from it.
The contrast alluded to in the title, it soon emerges, is between two kinds of citizen: one who affects European airs and graces, and another whose relative lack of sophistication is compensated for by a nobility of spirit. The former is the foppish, Chesterfield-quoting Dimple (Matthew Rixon), "a de- praved wretch, whose only virtue is a polished exterior."
He is attempting to break off his engagement to Maria by making advances towards two coquettish friends, Letitia and Charlotte. The latter's brother, a uniform-obsessed colonel, and his dull-witted Yankee servant Jonathan are the butt of many a jibe, but ultimately prove their mettle.
Director Melanie Wynyard keeps the light plot dancing along, and, benefiting from some well-judged comic performances, brings the undated central tussle between self-interest and self-sacrifice to the fore. Her actors frequently address their remarks to the house, sending up the didactic spirit of the piece and softening the pomposity of Tyler's cultural introspection.
There is a vicious contrast in Nick Green's Her Alabaster Skin, just opened at the White Bear in Kennington, between ornate, quietly menacing gangster patter and outrageous thuggery. The first section is not particularly promising, a poor man's Krapp's Last Tape: a nervy, solitary man called Joel Parker (Nick Barra) sits recording advice to his son like a latter- day Chesterfield.
A stack of tapes provides the only furniture other than a table and two chairs. With the arrival of the waiter and, then, the manager of the restaurant upstairs, offering him a free meal to compensate for noise, things turn extremely sour.
Parker soon finds himself stripped naked, bound and gagged, and awaiting unspeakable acts of torture. This is a nasty piece of work, which never quite stops feeling school of Pinter, and structurally it crumples unsatisfyingly in the second half. But insouciant performances (particularly from John O'Byrne's terminally bored serial killer) bring out the remorselessness of Green's dialogue which conjures up clubbable, get-ahead males and the powerlessness of those who lead dreamy, independent lives.
'The Contrast', The Cochrane, WC1 (0171-242 7040) To 17 Oct; 'Her Alabaster Skin', White Bear, London, SE11 (0171-793 9193) To 4 Oct
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
Arts & Ents blogs
- 2 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
- 3 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 4 University student in court for allegedly covering housemates' food in window cleaner and spit
- 5 Ryan Gosling posts tribute to 'Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal' creator Ryan McHenry
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
Eurovision 2015: What date is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Game of Thrones, season 5 episode 4, review: Sansa in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Jar Jar Binks is going to die unceremoniously in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
JK Rowling is 'really sorry' for killing off one of your favourite Harry Potter characters
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally