by Rhum and Clay Theatre Company and Beth Flintoff.
Watermill Theatre Bagnor RG20 8AE To 12 July 2014.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 6.30pm Mat Thu 2.30pm Sat 1.30pm.
Runs 1hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 01635 46044.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 July.
Dick, dame and death in accomplished proximity.
Self-proclaimed male theatre company Rhum and Clay admit a necessary dame to their gumshoe pastiche, without letting her quite join the club. Publicity for their sixth devised show foregrounds the three males, in hats and turned-up collars, while reducing the lone female to a slinkily-attired silhouette in the background.
Which is unfair on co-creator Beth Flintoff, and Jess Mabel Jones, who appears first as private dick Sam Spade’s loyally efficient assistant. Sure, she gets to do the mink number later but in a show where, departing from the Raymond Chandler paradigm, it isn’t the gorgeous blonde who did it, everyone has to take on speedily-etched, contrasting characters. Anyway, it’s among the trio of men any confusion arises.
Yet R & C’s swift story skilfully incorporates Chandleresque complexities and the sense of civic corruption. There are a vast number of moves, and shifting of the two door panels which are a major part of David Harris’s design to create ledges, a bar, walls that sway in a battered mind, and more. Just being in the right place at the correct time is a sizeable achievement, never mind lines or character.
Under Lawrence T Doyle’s lighting, the stage acquires an affluent urban ambience or becomes a cold grey city, backed by a half-perceived treescape. Wires strung across the stage create a crucial power-station. For, alongside the period influences, more recent sources keep this Californian story fizzing. Enron particularly, with a nod to Roman Polanski’s Chinatown.
Urgent tones and sceptical responses from the sides of mouths generate an atmosphere of suspicion and imminent violence. Rhum and Clay’s physical work and visual inventiveness are ever-apparent, while their vocal work is coming along nicely, helped by the stock American accents called for here.
Why bother to pastiche another country’s old genres? The hardboiled crime story expresses the toughness and danger of city life in any society necessarily based on strangers coming quickly together. If no-one’s their brother’s keeper, they’re certainly not interested when separated by six degrees. And sheer skill carries its own excitement. These guys, this dame, this show, will surely be seen again.
Addison/Stringer: Christopher Elwood.
Betty/Scarlet: Jess Mabel Jones.
Sam: Julian Spooner.
Joe/Lewis: Matthew Wells.
Voiceovers: Mitchell Mullen, Neil Bull.
Designer: David Harris.
Lighting: Lawrence T Doyle.
Sound: Neil Starke.