by Patrick Marber.

Royal & Derngate (Royal auditorium) Guildhall Road NN1 1DP To 14 June,
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 11 June, 12 June 2.30pm.
BSL Signed 12 June 7.45pm.
Post-show Discussion 2 June.
Captioned 10 June.
TICKETS: 01604 624811.

then Oxford Playhouse 11 Beaumont Street OX1 2LW 17-21 June 2014.
Tue-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described Sat 2.30pm.
Captioned Wed.
Post-show Discussion Wed.
TICKETS: 01865 305305.

Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 May.

Almost two decades on debut play still holds a strong hand.
It’s coming up to 20 years since Patrick Marber’s first play appeared, initially on the South Bank before transferring to the West End and going on to multiple subsequent productions. And the only things seeming dated are the brick-sized mobile ’phones characters produce from their pockets at intervals.

Its qualities are brought into play once again in Michael Longhurst’s fine Northampton revival, which will also show its hand for a week in Oxford. The play’s structure reflects a gambler’s life; act one upstairs, designer Helen Goddard dividing the stage into two realistic spaces, the kitchen and office of Stephen’s restaurant, where his staff work, taunt each other in male rivalry and make plans for futures that may never happen.

Then after the interval, it’s down to the basement for the dark obsession of the weekly poker session. Spread over the whole stage, the poker den also disappears into nothing at either side, the sole exit a door behind the action offering a bright shaft of light into which characters vanish for temporary breaks or when they are financially played-out.

If the younger men play beyond their means to the point where they have to work off their debt or rely on a handout from the boss to take a 5-year old daughter sightseeing – the two older characters have deeper-ingrained problems.

And in the final round, after the compulsions of loudmouthed, empty-headed Mugsy, wittily ironic Frankie and Stephen’s son Carl – neat-looking as his father, but also ravaged within by compulsion and seriously in debt – have been examined, Stephen faces the visitor Ash in a contest of experience and wills worked-out in words as well as the bluff and call over cards.

The qualities of Marber’s play – its structural strength, intricate detail, sense of character and terse wit, matched with understanding of underlying seriousness – shine in this revival and its fine performances, including the offhand manner of Tom Canton’s Frankie, and Richard Hawley’s Stephen, dry-witted, perceptive about the young generation’s demons, yet aware he’s not immune.

The production’s verve shows Marber’s dramatic debut retains its strong hand almost two decades on.

Ash: Ian Burfield.
Frankie: Tom Canton.
Carl: Oliver Coopersmith.
Mugsy: Cary Crankson.
Stephen: Richard Hawley.
Sweeney: Carl Prekopp.

Director: Michael Longhurst.
Designer: Helen Goddard.
Lighting: Katharine Williams.
Sound/Composer: Richard Hammarton.
Movement: Imogen Knight.
Fight director: Bret Yount.

2014-05-29 01:31:13

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