David K. O’Hara
Directed by James Savin
Pros: There’s a good bit of humour layered into pretty heavy context (the apocalyptic demise of London). Excellent accent work by Anthony Cozens.
Cons: Many plot and character strands are rather ambiguously introduced and re-referenced, but never sufficiently brought together; this could be meant as a cleaver, artsy device, but I found unsatisfying.
Our Verdict: An intelligently crafted piece of writing, direction and performance which is perhaps too heady for the stage.
|Credit: Juliana Vasquez
I stepped tentatively into the King’s Head after having a rather restless and depressing experience upon my last visit. Presented with a very similar set to that of the Albert Camus play I saw there last – a shabby, uninviting room with a definite air of creepiness and doom – I was pretty sure this was not going to be the ‘upper’ antidote to my previous visit, and that another esoteric thinker was in store. Not that I have anything against theatre of this ilk; theatre should stimulate and provoke after all, but I wanted more action and less chatter and ambiguity from this piece. I was looking for a big ‘a-ha, that’s brilliant’ conclusion, but instead I was offered various related strands of intrigue that were never satisfactorily knotted together.
Gordon (Anthony Cozens), an American writer, is caught in London as it experiences its demise. Consequently, he takes refuge in the top room of a half-way house as he seeks a safe return back to the United States. Just as he receives his escape papers and new back story, a woman, later known as Stella (Liza Callinicos), is dragged into the room by the half-way house’s manager (Bret Jones) for her own safe-keeping. Gordon, intrigued – or more entranced – by the woman’s presence, decides to stay to look after her.
Inevitability, their acquaintance begins with a frosty ‘what happened to you?’ conversation. They then discuss the present state of the world and the experience of residing in a deteriorating and dangerous country, before moving on to remembrances of happier times, all of which is of course punctuated by a lustful encounter. At the back centre of the set there is the ominous presence of a projector screen that reveals images of a previous time in which Gordon and Stella knew each other intimately – a time neither acknowledges nor seems to remember. Enter Iris (Lucy Wray), a bubbly teenager who rather inexplicably gains entrance into the room. She seems, to both Stella and Gordon’s confusion and frustration, over-familiar with them both and has come to facilitate the individual acceptance of their situations, whatever they may be.
While there are more neurons and connecting tissue carefully placed in specific moments throughout the plot that I have purposefully omitted to avoid a spoiler alert, they do not ingeniously untangle the complicated plot and implications of the story as I believe was intended.
Despite perhaps just not getting it (and to be honest, not being that interested in it once I sort of new what was going on), three-dimensional and intelligent performances were delivered by the entire cast and Lucy Wray as Iris was a welcomed burst of animation and idiosyncratic humour after rather a slog of a beginning.
While I was not entirely engaged by the play, I will concede that the script is content and idea rich and is probably bubbling at the brink of genius. However, it lacks the completeness of thought and fullness of character to assert any real enlightenment.
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The Upstairs Room runs at Kings Head Theatre until 8th December 2012.
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