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|A CurtainUp London Review
Dark when I leave. . . still dark when I get home. In between: herding cats. And there still isn’t time for anything.
Justine (Olivia Hallinan) is incandescent. She rants to her flatmate Michael (Philip McGinley) about her new boss. Michael listens patiently. This is what he does best and although he cannot leave the flat because he has agoraphobia, he works talking to clients on the sex phone lines pretending to be someone else according to the client’s predilection. So just as Justine has to hide her rage at work so Michael plays a role in order to earn the rent. Both have lives dominated by work. Neither seems to have room for any other kind of self expression. And both are an odd combination to share a flat.
Olivia Hallinan as Justine (Photo: Simon Annand)
We eavesdrop uncomfortably on Michael’s pornographic phone conversations with Saddo (David Michaels) whose paedophiliac fantasy focuses on his daughter. The claim is that by Michael role playing the lisping daughter that no harm comes to anyone. However, by the end of the play we are questioning what it is that any of us has to do to earn a living. What makes the play topical is that it spans the Christmas period and Justine describes the drunken office Christmas party and the fallout.
Herding Cats, which was nominated for the Best Play at the Theatre Awards UK, is confined to Michael and Justine’s flat, a single white sofa delineated by its curves in white neon tubing is sat on, sprawled over, collapsed on, leant on, while Anthony Banks directs the rapid fire dialogue from Justine, or Michael settling into a long phone conversation with Saddo.
Olivia Hallinan as Justine struts and rages about her boss but their close working raises issues of intimacy and loyalty. Philip McGinley almost becomes involved in Justine’s world as a listener. David Michaels’ Saddo is tender and repulsive at the same time. Herding Cats is a funny but caustic and ultimately a sad commentary.
Note: Critics are usually not allowed to review in Hampstead’s Downstairs studio space under Ed Hall’s regime which presents mostly new work but Herding Cats has transferred from The Ustinov Studio at The Theatre Royal Bath.
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Written by Lucinda Coxon
Directed by Anthony Banks
With: Olivia Hallinan, Philip McGinley, David Michaels
Designed by Garance Marneur
Lighting: James Mackenzie
Composer and Sound: Alex Baranowski
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 7th January 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th December 2011 performance at Hampstead Downstairs, Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London NW3 3EU (Tube: Swiss Cottage)
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