Monday, 17 December 2018

A powerful depiction of depressive illness

I’ve been fortunate to have seen many productions from The Henley College over the years, but I can state with

I’ve been fortunate to have seen many productions from The Henley College over the years, but I can state with some assuredness that last night’s production of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis may well be the best yet.

Written shortly before her death, the play requires a theatre company of some intelligence to be able to transform Kane’s text into something playable to an audience. Deliberately oblique in both form and content, the play provides an insight into the mind of someone suffering from severe depression.

Choosing to reflect the unconventional nature of the play with unconventional staging, this production forced the audience to stand and therefore uncomfortably confront what would be played out before us.

Whilst some will interpret the play to be autobiographical, Kane is never mentioned by name and my interpretation was that the central figure was a cipher for all sufferers of clinical depression and it from there that the play draws its power.

It is a confrontational play that assaults the senses and as we stood in the dimly lit smoke-filled room what unfolded around us was deeply moving.

Nienke Verwer gave an outstanding performance as The Patient. As her Doctor, Daniel Linney provided able support and in an ingenious moment when the central scene was re-played in its entirety showed us the emotional toll this crumbling relationship was having on them both.

Surrounded by an ensemble of ‘Thoughts’ it is impossible to single out one performer and that is to their credit.

Director Nic Saunders must once again be commended for the quality of work he is able to get from such young performers and whilst there are some that may question whether such a young cast are emotionally capable to dealing with such dark material, let me assure you that what I watched tonight had an intensity and resonance lacking from much professional work.

This was, simply, a stunning production from an incredibly disciplined and talented company.

Helen Thompson

4.48 Psychosis

The Henley College

We’re in a grey celluloid limbo as two ghost-legends of first the silent screen and then the talkies come together.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, two names which have become almost mythical in the nine decades since they arrived on the movies scene in Hollywood.

This engaging production of Tom McGrath’s Laurel and Hardy at The Watermill is funny, poignant and thought-provoking and many things besides.

The spirits of the two comics work through their lives together as if to make some sense of them. They play out their scenes against the backdrop of an exploded movie projector all reels, cogs, sprockets and tangled film.

It’s a mess and they set about sorting it by reliving episodes from their early days until they’re thrown together in an inspired coupling by the producer Hal Roach. After that it’s immortality all the way. We’re swept along on the journey , through the high points until world passes on and they’re left behind.

Paul Bigley as Laurel and Gavin Spokes as Hardy not only look like their characters, they are Laurel and Hardy. The voices so closely match what we know of the originals that the ghostly framework becomes spooky.

The playwright’s great skill was to interpret their lives through their movie scenes and director Paul Foster has wrung every drop of nuance and humour from the script. He is helped by an imaginative set from Laura McEwen and unobtrusive but effective musical input from Richard Sisson.

We see usually amusing, sometimes hilarious, scenes with stepladders, wallpaper-pasting and in one case an invisible Jean Harlow expanding to such an enormous size that it crushes them both.

At the end they’ve relived it, seen it made no sense anyway, but have cleared their tab and can pass from Limbo to wherever they were heading. The exploded projector disappears and we are left with a grey stage and our two sloping off almost but not quite like Morecambe and Wise.

It’s a show of many levels, there’s bound to be one for you in there somewhere.

Laurel and Hardy is at The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor until July 20. Box office 01635 46044.

Mike Rowbottom

Laurel And Hardy

The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury

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