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A CurtainUp London Review
This household consists of a couple: Lisa or Bonnet (Lois Nolan), a writer of graphic novels and self-confessed "50 year old geek" and her partner Jane (Sasha Mitchell) a hardworking doctor. The familial satellites consist of Bonnet's two children Jude (Declan Harvey) and Kylie (Polly Conway), Jerry (Kevin Colson) a scientific journalist and his partner Allen (Peter Leafe) who has just had an operation for throat cancer. In addition, there is Jude's devoutly Christian girlfriend Ginger Scott-Taggart (Anna Steel) and Bonnet and Lisa's offstage, delinquent infant Felix, who is "a most exuberant child" with Aspergers, conceived with the help of IVF and Allen. An Easter weekend together and the scene is rather obviously set for some nutritious conflict.
Helen Eastman's innovative, intelligent direction is perfectly suited to this play's fresh, uncommon style. She is perhaps best known for her production of Seamus Heaney's Cure at Troy where she demonstrated her ability to tackle political issues with very human drama. Similarly, here she has got some fantastic performances from the cast, but not at the expense of the text's larger questions. As a result, family relationships, fraught with the tensions of modern life, smoothly intersect with abstract ideals.
Moreover, this play represents a considerable feat of directorial versatility. Alongside the main narrative there are two parallel, subordinate threads. To candlelight and church music, Bible stories are half read, half acted. These portray unnatural fertility and pregnancy, describing miraculous, divine intervention rather than scientific input. The second narrative realizes Bonnet's latest creative project: an adventure set in a dystopian future under a conservative, religious government. "Purity agents" scour the streets for evidence of unchaste behaviour and IVF has been criminalized. Played out behind two-way mirrors, the characters act in a stylised, exaggerated way which mimics comic books. They may be deliberately two-dimensional, but they are also moving and engaging. These scenes are very well-executed, even if the substance itself could have possessed a bit more paradigmatic force.
The performances are lively and unforced which cannot be easy in so dialectical a drama. In particular, Polly Conway and Declan Harvey, two recent graduates are incredibly accomplished and convincing. Polly Conway winningly plays the innocent but gutsy Talitha, the seventeen year old heroine of the comic book adventure; then, with apparently effortless ease, assumes the role of the resolute, unconventional Kylie. Also exceptional is Lois Nolan as the earnest, understandably harassed Bonnet.
This play is intriguingly textured, with s current and relevant writing that is at times poignant and at times witty ("A surprise, Kylie, is a cake. It is not a pregnancy"). The ensemble cast are persuasive and the direction impeccable. It might be slightly too didactically thought-provoking, but on the whole this is a satisfying and enthralling drama.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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