by Mira Dovreni.

Tour to 21 March 2014.
Runs 1hr 40min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 January at mac Birmingham.

Contained playing style demands attention and provides focus.
First, it seems, you have to die. In the case of Henrietta Lacks it helped, back in mid-20th century America, that she was poor, Black and a woman. So no-one thought it necessary to ask permission to take some of the DNA from the tumour which was killing her.

Not the first time doctors had tried this with patients, but this time the DNA survived, and replicated itself. It allowed considerable medical advances in treatment, so HeLa, as the sample became known for short, became a significant healer.

In Penny Dreadful’s new piece this story is combined with another drawn from less publicised experience, about a ’cellist, Rosa, whose lover Mick dies of cancer. True as it is at root, it lacks the sense of veracity the more public focus gives the HeLa strand, and it can seem dramatic neatness that Rosa expresses Mick’s DNA sequencing as a melodic line.

’Cello apart, Rosa is associated with the bath Mick had come to fix for her when they met. If she is his survivor, Henrietta’s is her daughter Deborah, who is linked to the ’phone which keeps ringing with requests for interviews or appearances. Like the photo of her mother, the callers appear in shadowy form behind the frosted glass with which Deborah keeps herself and the world apart.

At mac certainly, the auditorium with its front three rows sunk in a kind of pit, helped the contained playing style – quite unlike the manner of the old penny dreadfuls – with the action set well-back on the flat-floor playing area, while the quiet delivery and emotional reticence distance the audience, providing an experience closer to observing an action rather than having it addressed directly to us.

That fits the combination of lives set askew and undergoing shocking experience. Even the most direct moment happens as casually as it might be observed in life, when Clare Perkins, as mother rather than daughter, walks stiffly with her case. She might be any woman in the street, but is Henrietta going to hospital and, as it turned out, death, fame and a kind of immortality.

Mick: John McKeever.
Rosa: Anna-Helena McLean.
Deborah: Clare Perkins.

Director/Dramaturgy: Kirsty Housley.
Designer/Costume: Angela Simpson.
Lighting: Matt Haskins.
Sound/Music: Barnaby Race.
Animations: Gemma Burditt.

12 Feb 7.30pm Barnsley Civic 01226 327000
13 Feb 7.45pm Harrogate Theatre -1423 502116
14 Feb 7.30pm Uppingham Theatre 01572 820820
15 Feb 7.30pm Quay Arts Newport Isle of Wight 01983 822490
21-22 Feb 7.30pm Live Theatre Newcastle-upon-Tyne 0191 232 1232
24 Feb 7.30pm New Vic Newcastle-under-Lyme 01782 717962
25 Feb 7.45pm Stahl Theatre Oundle 01832 273930
27 Feb 7.30pm Richard Burton Theatre Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Cardiff 029 2039 1391
28 Feb 7.30pm Rosehill Theatre Whitehaven 01946 692422
1 March 8pm Brewery Arts Centre Kendal 01539 725133
4,5, 7, 8 March 9.30pm 9 March 7.30pm Soho Theatre London 020 7478 0100
11-12 March 7.30pm Mumford Theatre Cambridge 0845 196 2320/01223 352932
13 March 8pm Severn Theatre Shrewsbury 01743 281281
15 March 7.30pm Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough 01723 370541
19-21 March 8pm The Lowry Salford (Studio) 0843 208 6000

2014-02-09 00:49:59

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