by Caroline Bird.
Lyric Theatre King Street Hammersmith W6 0QL To 5 November 2013.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
Tickets: 0871 221 1729.
Typetalk: 18001 0871 22 117 29.
Review: Carole Woddis 24 October.
Too much of a good thing?
Caroline Bird’s radical reworking of The Trojan Women, set in a mother-and-baby unit of a prison, scored a great success last year. She’s returned to a prison setting for this murderously dark farce that almost matches Martin McDonagh for gallows humour.
Bird’s subject is a futuristic vision of the death penalty, set in an execution room and created in a studio at the top of the Lyric, currently undergoing extensive refurbishment and modernisation.
Making a virtue out of necessity, it’s a clever conceit in what the theatre are calling their `Secret Season’. Each production, of which there have been a previous two, is dependant on the progress of the building’s redevelopment programme. Thus Chamber Piece is reached by climbing several flights of stairs, rails of costumes and dressing rooms as if being let in on some behind-the-scenes secret (sic).
A further theatrical in-joke is also contrived in the climactic finale when a lever is pulled on the safety curtain and the old Lyric auditorium, covered in plastic dust sheets is revealed with the two prison warders who were present at the unsuccessful execution of convicted murderer Richard Sanger, sitting in the dress circle about to spill the beans on how and why his execution was sabotaged.
Visually, it’s stunning, if aurally diffuse. But then < i>Chamber Piece, whilst its heart is certainly in the right place, loses comic impetus from, ironically, over-kill.
Bird, with more than a doff to Joe Orton, has a go at victims, perpetrator, prison governor, the press, the medical establishment and spiritual advisers with a very heavy hand. Or maybe the fault lies in Sean Holmes’ direction, where caricature seems to be the over-riding instruction.
A comedy that satirises public execution by creating a manically over-ambitious governor, a quisling doctor, autistic relative and other stereotypes demands skill of both performance and construction. The cast, taken from the Secret Season’s ensemble, work, and can be seen to be, working hard.
But only occasionally do style and content merge to release the absurdity that is the joy of farce, even one as seriously bitter as this one.
Warden Sunshine: Nadia Albina.
Warden Alex: Hammed Animashaun.
Richard Sanger: Leo Bill.
Governor: Cara Horgan.
Warden Heather: Charlotte Josephine.
Journalist: Adelle Leonce.
Amy Watkins: Katherine Pearce.
John Sanger: Billy Seymour.
Spiritual Advisor: Sergo Vares.
Physician: Steven Webb.
Director: Sean Holmes.
Designer: Paul Wills.
Lighting: Lizzie Powell.
Sound: Nick Manning.
Assistant director: Ilinca Radulian.
Special thanks to NoraLee and Jon Sedmak.