Pros: Set, dress and writing will take you back to 1665!
Cons: The cast would do well to maximise the comedic elements of this well-written script.
In the gloomy cellar below The Curtains Up pub, a macabre new writing tale about the Black Death lingers for most of March. Set in Newgate Prison in 1665, the tale follows a bankrupted alchemist named Matthias who is incarcerated alongside a riotous and drunken widow, plus a young and heavily pregnant thief. Somewhat shielded from the dangerous plague outside, the trio plot against one another in the confines of their captivity. The audience are brought along on the young alchemist’s twisting, turning journey as he pleads with his cellmates to help him find a cure for the great pestilence.
The set and dress were fabulously revolting. It looked as if the characters, especially the two ladies, were smeared in a layer of grease half melted by the scorching summer sun that poured into the stale prison cell. Nick Howard-Brown’s turn as the young alchemist was memorable for his skill in storytelling. The visceral recounting of his trip away from the cell and the description of the violent mob was clear evidence of both the writer’s ability to create the living nightmare and Howard-Brown’s brilliance in bringing it to life. I was immediately reminded of the bit at the start of 28 Days Later when Mark recounts his story of the infected to Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris’s characters just before his arm is hacked off. Howard-Brown’s energetic performance was neatly counterbalanced by Bruce Kitchener’s seasoned and comfortable characterisation of the weary jailer, Simon Holt.
With regard to the writing, the piece perhaps could have benefited from more sensuous moments. In one scene the young Jennet Flyte (played by Kate Huntsman) sings a sweet lullaby which provided both a break from the misery and served to underline it with its contrasting tone. Additionally, the script had some fantastic moments of black comedy which did stir a few pockets of mirth amongst the audience. The cast would do well to make the most of these for the reason stated previously.
Though the efforts of the company below ground were clear, less can be said for their unscrupulous hosts at the pub upstairs. The ice cold refreshments were served warm and two pints will set you back the thick end of £20 – this would be less of an annoyance if efforts to exchange them for cold ones weren’t met with such resistance. There was also a timing clash with the pub quiz which meant some of the more tender moments were ruined through no fault of cast and crew.
An infectious performance from a tight cast; it’s worth reinforcing the new writer’s ability to craft a believable period piece, made all the more real by the attention to detail with regards to set and costume.
Writer: Christine Foster
Director: Adam Barnbrough
Producer: The 42nd Theatre Company
Booking Until: 26 March 2017
Box Office: 020 8932 4747
Booking Link: http://www.offwestend.com/index.php/plays/view/15359