Directed by Tom Latter
Pros: Some great performances, and some interesting situations. Will not leave you bored.
Cons: Tries to be too many things at once. Endearing? Shocking? Leaves you wondering.
Our Verdict: Certainly not a boring production, but lacks focus.
The Tristan Bates Theatre, just around the corner from the Cambridge Theatre and slap bang in the middle of Covent Garden, describes itself as ‘the thorn in the side of the West End’. It is always fascinating to watch new writing, but it is certainly a little risky. On the one hand, such pieces can turn out to be total flops, on the other they could be brilliant, fully crafted masterpieces. Most often, however, they fall resoundingly in between.
The Death of Norman Tortilla is one of those pieces where the foundations of a great script are laid down, but there is still something missing to tie it together. The characters are full of potential – comedic at times and tragic at others – but ultimately they seem to lack depth. There are levels in them which are not fully explored, facets which are touched upon but not followed up, and character traits which seem to spring from nowhere. In short, the plot is moving and funny, but it lacks an overarching thread to bring it to fruition. The concepts which the author explores are pertinent and interesting in their own right – the care of the elderly, the struggle of young women trying to forge a career, the stereotypes of foreigners and the marginalisation of homosexuality to name a few – but none are clearly defined enough to bring a certain consistency to the production. Instead, the audience is left wondering what exactly the play was about. It has an almost Sarah Kane feel about it, and it reminded me a little bit of her now-acclaimed but previously heavily criticised production of Blasted.
Despite this, the production plays host to some brilliant performances. Robert Gill as Norman Tortilla gives a particularly entertaining yet tragic performance, which grasps the subtleties of the complex character. Equally, Morag Sims as Tandie, the desperate and flirty saleswoman, and Nicholas Ruben in the role of Jack, the Polish care worker, deliver excellent renditions. These are not easy roles to play; no character is innocent in this show. The cast do an excellent job of a reasonably difficult task.
In a nutshell, The Death of Norman Tortilla is difficult to capture in a review. It is a bold piece of writing, well-staged and skilfully performed, but it tries to be too many things at once. In the process, the production loses focus between the light-hearted and the shocking. Should you go see it? I’d like to say yes. You may leave wondering what, if any, the message was, but you will certainly be entertained.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!
The Death of Norman Tortilla runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 11th April 2012.
Box Office: 020 7240 6283 or book online at http://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/