Pros: The vintage dancing, the acting and a solid dose of food for thought
Cons: The staging is too simple and static
Who says Repertory Theatre in Central London is mission impossible? Thanks to So & So Art Club, a collective with a presence in seven other countries, and six years’ experience, we too can enjoy good old repertory theatre in our city. That’s five different plays, talks and monologues, all housed in one historic building until the end of September… sweet!
American Venus opens the season. Directed by Sarah Berger, also the season’s Executive Producer, it’s a snapshot in the life of the unforgettable Louise Brooks. You know…, “the” quintessential American Venus of Pandora’s Box fame? The dancer-come-actress who got everyone falling for the bobbed haircut back in the 1920’s? Infact, if you find yourself attracted to anything vaguely Gatsby in style; vintage lace or champagne cocktails, you probably have Louise Brooks to blame.
The opening scene sees a young and glamorous version of Louise (Angharad George-Carey) in pearls and silky lace, dancing with an equally young and glamorous Charlie Chaplin (Tim Walton). The music is unmistakably 1920s, perhaps the Charleston. Meanwhile, the old Louise (Susan Penhaligon) is lying in bed, coughing and looking dismal. She is haunted by the memory of her younger self.
A projector screens a street in modern day Rochdale, New York and the audience is introduced to the storyline and remaining cast. Starting with Louise’s trusted carer, Phyllis (Mary Keegan), and caretaker, Frank (Brian Deacon). Louise is moody, harsh and challenges all her dearest relations and staff to breaking point. It’s impossible not to take a liking to all the characters, who are all very well developed. But old Louise has lived the dream. She’s had the most glamorous lovers, and her fair share of fun. Now, she lives as a prisoner of her past; fearful that her interaction with the outside world will shatter the glamourous public persona she has so carefully built. And in every harsh outburst, and every attack on her nearest and dearest it’s clear that there’s a proud woman trying to keep her own ghost alive.
The snapshots of the young Louise dancing, and dallying with young Chaplin are her comfort, her release from the sorrow of her current situation. They are a joy to watch. They leave the ghost of her own self in the air and put everything into perspective. No matter how much Stan (the excellent Nicholas Waring) or local librarian Tara (Sophia Swanell) try take her out of her shell, Louise adamantly remains in bed, waiting for nature to take its course.
The play is well written and directed. It’s superbly rendered by excellent acting throughout, and the dancing is simple but magical. What lets the play down is the simplicity of the staging and the sense of oppression at having to stare at a woman in bed throughout. It was probably a theatrical device, but a little bit of dynamism and few more stage settings would have taken this play to another level. Overall, American Venus was an enjoyable, worthy and satisfying start to a very promising Rep season. Bring it on, So & So.
Author: Leslie Mildiner
Director: Sarah Berger
Producer: So & So Art Club
Box Office: https://www.tickettailor.com/all-tickets/9738/b985/
Booking until: 26 September, 2015