by Annie Baker.

The Rose Lipman Building 43 De Beauvoir Rd N1 5SQ To 3 August 2013.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Wed & Sat 4pm.
Captioned 2 Aug.
Runs 2hr No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7565 5000.
6.30pm in person at the Rose Lipman Building.
Review: Carole Woddis 11 July.

Deftly handled material finely acted.
The Royal Court Local has now spread its wings into north London, to a smart new community centre off the Kingsland Road where a typical evening class is seemingly under way. Anyone who has ever attended a similar group will recognise it: fumbling acolytes led by a benign, constantly smiling leader.

American Obie award-winner Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation’s quietly gentle study in vulnerability and fear of loneliness is set in a similar Vermont community centre where a weekly creative drama group are being put through their paces.

With sure and steady strokes, Baker captures the strange alchemy that binds groups together, the emotional baggage they bring with them and the awkward, mistimed relationships that can ensue.

It is all very touchy-feely and Baker’s observations could easily have turned into cruel satire. But as Stepping Out and Calendar Girls have shown, beside the hilarity of watching people making fools of themselves lurk tender human shoots striving towards the sunlit slopes of friendship, love and happiness.

In the hands of James Macdonald, a master-craftsman in nuance, Circle Mirror also becomes a master-class in naturalistic acting. A hand-picked cast of Imelda Staunton, Danny Webb, Toby Jones, Fenella Woolgar and comparative newcomer Shannon Tarbet produce brilliantly synchronised acting as they go through typical acting exercises with unimaginably delicate skill, in the process gradually revealing their characters.

It makes for an absorbing two hours, a kind of zoological-anthropological study of the human animal, as if being put under a microscope.

Small earthquakes of emotion erupt – two of the group members gravitate towards each other and as quickly part whilst the leader herself undergoes a bitter-sweet transformation – all blessedly conveyed through understatement and high precision, detailed work.

Staunton’s Marty, a miracle of touchy-feely understanding, her pain equally excruciating when her own world is unexpectedly turned upside, is matched by another memorable Toby Jones portrait in discomforted aggression when Schultz tells the woman he’s attracted to, Fenella Woolgar’s Theresa, “No, I’m not angry, just disappointed in you.” Acting honours also to the fast up-and-coming Shannon Tarbet. Her uptight teenager stays long in the memory.

Marty: Imelda Staunton.
James: Danny Webb.
Schultz: Toby Jones.
Theresa: Fenella Woolgar.
Lauren: Shannon Tarbet.

Director: James Macdonald.
Designer: Chloe Lamford.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.

First performance of this production of Circle Mirror Transformation was at The Rose Lipman Building Haggerston London 5 July 2013.
World premiere of Circle Mirror Transformation was presented by Playwrights Horizon Inc, New York City off Broadway, 2009
Developed in part with the assistance of the Sundance Institute Theatre Program with additional support from the Sundance Institute’s Time Warner Storytelling Fellowship.

2013-07-17 13:07:35

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