Pros: A masterclass in acting featuring zealous performances that are engaging and commendable.
Cons: The venue can be a bit of a trek if you are travelling across town.
A Cool Million or The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin is a masterclass in acting and one all students of theatre should see. With creative and finely-tuned direction by Kate Bannister, Artistic Director of the Jack, and distinguished performances from the exuberant three-piece male cast, the Vaudeville style is wonderfully captured.
This is Vanguard Theatre’s inaugural production. Adapted by the late Joss Bennathan from Nathanael West’s 1934 novel, the show tells the epic story of Lemuel Pitkin, an impoverished yet eternally optimistic young American man who sets out to make his fortune at the height of the Great Depression. The tale begins with Pitkin admirably heading out to find the money needed to pay the mortgage on his family home before it is taken from him. On his journey, he encounters friend and foe and lands himself in some tricky situations, risking his life (and limbs!) in his quest.
Vanguard, led by Artistic Director Robert Durbin, who appears in the play, creates theatre that reflects the current social and political landscape and this production lives up to the company’s aims of being bold, inventive and physical. Socially relevant, there has never been a more opportune time to produce a stage version of a story about struggle, greed and want.
The script pushes the actors to their limits and sees them switching quickly between dozens of characters, each of which is unique and performed with acute attention to detail. The trio (Matthew Ashcroft, James Macnaughton and Robert Durbin) has endless energy and stamina, and for 90 action-packed minutes they never leave the stage. They rely on nothing – not one costume change – other than a handful of props and bounds of talent to create each distinct character. Incredible talent, and genius moments of comedy that would have given Robin Williams a run for his money!
The set, designed by Sarah June Mills, is simple but effective for the space: a wooden platform representative of a typical American porch, with colours from the American flag draped in the background. These are accompanied by three wooden chairs and a couple of wooden posts, used to hang some of the props. The chairs play all manner of objects from horses, to coaches, to a train carriage. Costumes are authentic and work well against the set: striped blazers, straw hats and canes. Both set and costumes help to set the style of the work and come together to create a vision of a bygone era.
A Cool Million is well worth a trip to Brockley Jack. A fast-paced evening of light entertainment that deals with difficult issues but doesn’t become bogged down with them. If this is the calibre of Vanguard’s debut, then the company has a very good future ahead of it.
Author: Nathanael West, adapted for the stage by Joss Bennathan
Director: Kate Bannister
Producers: Robert Durbin and Evelyn Campbell
Booking Until: 14 November 2015
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: www.brockleyjack.co.uk