by Stephen Polikoff.
Almeida Theatre Almeida Street N1 1TA To 5 November 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs: 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7359 4404.
Review: Carole Woddis 25 October.
Static story of the importance of the past.
My City is one of Stephen Poliakoff’s stranger creations. Like so much of his work it is harnessed to and obsessed with the past, and how the past reacts upon us. It is, though, more than most, dominated by story-telling.
Stories are something, Poliakoff himself tells us in the theatre programme, that have always fascinated and absorbed him. They are his energiser. And storytelling as a medium, we know, is the basis of theatre and can, in itself, be spellbinding.
The sad thing about My City, a play clearly born out of deep love and affection for teachers, young people and London itself, is that it is so lacking in dramatic energy.
Poliakoff’s central protagonist, Lambert (Tracey Ullman) is a retired teacher found sleeping on a park bench by the Thames by one of her former pupils, Richard (Tom Riley). Richard is not only eternally grateful to Lambert for helping him through a difficult time at school (he and his friend Julie both suffered from dyxslexia) but is puzzled to find that she has become a `night wanderer’, roaming the London streets at night.
He is determined to unlock her secret and so enters her strange world of ritualised bar and cafe stops and her companions, also former teachers, Minken (David Troughton) and Summers (Sorcha Cusack).
There are moments when Poliakoff’s wizardry takes wing: Minken’s harrowing story of his childhood flight from Nazi Germany, the drawings he collects painted by his pupils of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Gulf War. But the connection and the emotion seem forced. The more we enter Lambert, Minken and Summers’ worlds, the more eccentric and lost they become but to no greater enlightenment for us.
Relics of former times, when we witness flashbacks to Lambert and Minken in their prime talking to the classes, remain theatrically inert. The endless anecdotes and stories fail to oxygenate Poliakoff’s urban vision that in younger years – and in his recent TV films – have carried such potency with a past that resides inside us all but here, Poliakoff seems to be saying, have created a kind of calcified stasis in teachers once able to look forward but now stuck in time.
Lambert: Tracey Ullman.
Richard: Tom Riley.
Minken: David Troughton.
Summers: Sorcha Cusack.
Julie: Sîan Brooke.
Waitress: Hannah Arterton.
Director: Stephen Poliakoff.
Design: Lez Brotherston.
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick.
Sound/Music: Ben and Max Ringham.
Music: Gwilym Simcock
Vocal coach: Majella Hurley.
Assistant director: Laura Farnsworth.
Assistant designers: Emma Belli, Tom White.
The World Premiere of My City opened at the Almeida on 8 September 2011.