At Ease, by Rod Dungate
Old Joint Stock Pub and Theatre
Tkts: 0121 200 0946 / email@example.com
Runtime: 2h: one interval: 17 – 20 June 2015
Review: Jan Pick 20 June.
A search for meaning.
Starting from a quiet drink in a suburban garden between two friends, this play slides you into a nightmare world of sleaze, violence, injustice and despair. A true story, based on letters, personal memories, old newspaper articles and archival documentation, this is the story of Alex Rees, a Moss-side boy, born into poverty, who struggles out of his abused childhood through his own intelligence and determination. Culminating in his acceptance into the elite Household Cavalry, it seems as if the world is his for the taking.
Years later, writing from his prison cell, Alex explores his life and the choices he made or that were forced upon him in a searing, yet witty, examination of himself culminating in a redemptive self knowledge that finally releases him from the shackles of his past.
The set is a rather cluttered kitchen which cleverly reflects not only Alex’s enjoyment of cooking, but suggests the untidiness of life itself, while the black and white chessboard style floor hint at society’s desire for easy answers with Alex as a pawn in the establishment games.
This is not a play for the squeamish, but it is an important piece of work that has much to say that is relevant to the current unmasking of abuse and malpractice by rings of powerful men who abuse their position in society by preying on the vulnerable. Its message is punched home all the more brutally because it is the truth.
Carl Thornley’s sensitive performance encapsulates the hopes, anger, fears, intelligence and wry self knowledge of Alex, and he gets excellent support from Jack Richardson as Rod Dungate, whose investigations delve deep into Alex’s life and the reasons for his actions, Denny Hodge as Michael Cashman, actor and activist, whose path crossed that of Alex, culminating in the strange relationship that inspired this play and Shannon Anthony and Alison Belbin who throw their not inconsiderable talents into the mix as Alex’s mother and sister.
Dungate’s play digs beneath the surface to find answers about a complex man, employing an interesting mix of drama and documentary styles which is very effective. It throws up more questions than answers, but the questions are extremely important ones. Hopefully At Ease will have a life beyond The Old Joint Stock – it deserves a wider audience.
Liz Rees: Shannon Anthony
Joan Rees: Alison Belbin
Michael Cashman: Denny Hodge
Rod Dungate: Jack Richardson
Alex Rees: Carl Thornley
Playwright and Director: Rod Dungate
Designer: Natalie Hogan
Lighting Designer: Mile Jarvis
Slides and Sound Designer: Aguinaldo da Palma
Script and Production Consultant: Peter Wynne-Wilson
Photographer: Carl Hopley
Company and Production Manager: Roger Richardson