by Nick Gill.
Southwark Playhouse (The Little) 77-85 Newington Causeway SE1 6BD T0 8 February.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 20 September.
Vigorous action of men going potty among the potted plants.
In an untidy, impermanent-looking room – somewhere between shed and polytunnel – rows of pot-plants on tables are periodically watered, at the sound of an alarm. Three men run the show, two at a time, sitting at one side, playing cards or talking with a rough-edged rivalry, one taking photographs in a kind of power-game, when not watering the inmates on the tables.
You’ll either know what the title of Nick Gill’s play means or it will mean nothing. It’s a specific reference, without which the piece could seem largely meaningless. The trouble is, once it’s understood the 70-minute process might seem simplistic. The significance is explained in the script-programme, but not in the performance, which has a style where explanations would not fit.
For, from the start there’s competitive hostility in these three people. And, it turns out, incipient insanity. Jake Ferretti’s Grainer is the newcomer, defensive and aggressively puzzled when surprised asleep on duty at the start, increasingly belligerent as he finds his feet in the place.
It’s not surprising after his opening encounters with Tanc, whom Stephen Bisland invests with near-indecipherable speed and elision of speech, alongside a rough humour that gets his new co-worker anxious before laughing at him with an energy showing Tanc’s mightily impressed with his own joking.
Their volatility is apparently contrasted by the more ordered, quieter Wolstead, but Matthew Trevannion shows his purposeful energy gradually transforming into obsessive urgency. By the later stages, when the pattern of events has become clearer, the destructive impact of their regime is as evident on the three carrying it out as on the objects of their attention – and, increasingly, their hostility.
Alice Malin’s production (arriving in Southwark from Oxford’s Burton Taylor studio) builds the intensity from the cold start. As time jumps forward in stages, stress takes the men different ways. Grainer and Tanc swelter and freeze alongside each other, while Wolstead becomes demented – all three acted with force as they hurtle towards collapse.
Life’s tough for the plants – especially the final row – but it might really hurt their guards at least as much as them.
Grainer: Jake Ferretti.
Tanc: Stephen Bisland.
Wolstead: Matthew Trevannion.
Director: Alice Malin.
Designer: Ruth Hall.
Lighting: Tom Wickens.
Sound: Max Pappenheim.
Fight director: Robin Colyer.
Associate lighting: Matthew Swithinbank.