by John Patrick Shanley.

Southwark Playhouse (The Vault) Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 19 November 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 November.

Direct, clear and deeply-felt, giving voice to individuals struggling with life.
This 1984 play is subtitled, in Graffiti Productions’ programme, “An Apache Dance”. But just because it’s American don’t assume anything based on native choreography; the pronunciation is ‘ahPASH’, referring to a 1920s Parisian street-gang. The dance invokes the violent relationship of pimp and prostitute, though the relationship in John Patrick Shanley’s play is very different, if, at times, just as tempestuous.

It’s a lost souls story, a dispossessed, heated-up equivalent of Terrence McNally’s slightly later Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. There’s a meeting, a homecoming, a longing for love. Then there’s the ending.

Ché Walker’s production combines energy and elegy. It’s minimalist. Even the two seats of the opening, where Roberta and Danny coincide in a late-night bar, are choreographed away as the play moves into an urgent disrobing for the sex that happens back at her place, before the central scene starts.

The defensiveness of Clare Latham and Jonathan Chambers in that first scene – they start facing different ways, she rushes her seat suddenly to his, a contact for which he’s clearly not ready, they move argumentatively to opposite corners – is like a dance. This all changes as they lie together, souls searching for connection, and in Catholic Roberta’s case, a salve for her sexual guilt.

All beneath a moon imagined from a neighbour’s security light, which can snap out as suddenly as Arnim Friess has lights come and go around scenes. Friess’s lighting is a major factor in the production, coldly lighting the pair sometimes, or giving them a directional seclusion, shadows providing a partial cover for their time together.

Inevitably, morning comes, bringing the truth that, deep down, men stick romantically to illusory hopes, while women are practical and precise. Latham gives Roberta an organised, even ruthless, certainty contrasting her earlier troubled and lyrical waywardness. She retreats just as Chambers’ self-described ‘beast’, who’d arrived fresh from a bloody fight, who’s struggled towards expression, brow towering over his eyes, lower-lip thrust pugnaciously forward, tries to grasp a new life from transient experience, in a stark, quiet ending where emotion is bound by unarguable reason.

Roberta: Clare Latham.
Danny: Jonathan Chambers.

Director: Ché Walker.
Lighting: Arnim Friess.

2011-11-02 02:52:22

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