By Jack Shepherd
The Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, London E8 5DL to 21 March 2020.
Mon- Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat 2.30pm & Wed 18March.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: William Russell 18 February.
Maggie Steed gives a blazing ngly funny performances as Elvira, an elderly gin soaked Bohemian artist once upon a time, who descends on Anna and Chris, who are struggling to live the self sufficient life in the country in Jack Shepherd’s tragic comedy about life, death and the nature of art. It is, however, a mite wordy. Since Shepherd directed it maybe he was reluctant to cut. But he has secured terrific performances from his cast with Michael Feast, the unwelcome guest who arrives in act two – the biker who has been ferrying Elvira riding pillion around her old haunts – causing fresh mayhem. That it ran 2hrs and 25 minutes on press night was, however, in part due to a remarkably clumsy and complex change of scene at the interval. Designer Louie Whitemore had worked wonders creating the couple’s country kitchen, but her solution to moving to the patio outside proved horribly tricky to set up.
Chris is a onetime art critic, a writer who has had a nervous breakdown some seven years ago and with his loving, hard working wife Anna has set up home in a one time farm where they are trying to create a self sufficient life style with not much success. They have, in fact, been sold a pretty useless farm with unproductive soil. They have a neighbour, Peter, a widower, who haunts the place seeking comfort – and failing to grasp just what is going on. Into their lives comes Elvira, who claims she once lived there in her youth when the world was enchanted and anything went – memories she likes to refresh with a large gin and tonic, requests which Anna finds impossible to refuse.
Shepherd is looking at the nature of art, at how capitalism affects it, how critics decide what readers will follow and how people can fall for what they are told rather than making their own decisions. It gets more complicated when Zak turns up because while he seems a figure of menace – he has been the member of an unsuccessful band – there is more to him than that. Enjoy the arguments about the nature and place of art, long for a little more pace to the proceedings, and admire the skill with which Jasmine Hyde and David Sturzaker create the edgy would be country folk and how James Clyde makes the annoying, clinging neighbour a sad and wistful creature. But the evening belongs in part to the splendid Feast, but totally to a magnificent Steed who fills the role completely. Elvira is a nightmare at times, but also an enchanting creature with an amazing past, a sad drink fuelled cigarette puffing old soul facing up to the fact that she has very few tomorrows left even if her yesterdays were glorious.
The play provides and fine opening to the Arcola’s 20th anniversary which will include a new version of Strindberg’s The Dance of Death by Rebecca Lenkiewicz,Death in Venice directed by Philip Prowse with Greg Hicks, and new plays by writers whose work has been staged there before.
Peter: James Clyde.
Zak: Michael Feast.
Jasmine Hyde: Anna.
Maggie Steed: Elvira.
Chris: David Sturzaker.
Director: Jack Shepherd.
Designer: Louie Whitemore.
Lighting Designer: Richard Williamson.
Sound Designer: Lex Kosanke.
Production Photography: Alex Brenner.