Pros: Poetically written, and the smell of puttanesca sauce draws you right into the set.
Cons: The pacing is often not complimentary to the text, and the performance isn’t always as vivid as it could be.
In 2010 Julian Clary was promised a play by the Olivier Award winning playwright Stephen Clark. Three years later it arrived, ‘a funny, dark, beautiful play’ says Clary. In short, I completely agree. But there’s a bit more to it than that.
Clary plays Michael, who is preparing dinner for his young guest, Tim (James Nelson-Joyce) in a pristine, clean kitchen which is guarded over by a statuesque Vitruvian Man. We were brought into the one act play watching Clary cook pasta puttanesca (the pasta of the ‘ladies of the night’) on the set’s working oven. The precision in watching him chop and prepare the dish, as well as the scent, did well at enticing me in. Intimacy is a big theme in this production, and here I really felt that I was being invited to witness something intimate.
Throughout the 90-minute single-act play we discover two damaged men. One as obsessed as the other with death, oblivion and intimacy (and how all three might relate to each other). Some startling twists and turns eventually reveal to us why, and how, these two men were brought together. Clark has written something that felt to me like an extended piece of poetry. Deliberately shown through Michael’s monologue full of rhyming couplets, I could feel the poetic sense simmer away as his pasta did the same. Sometimes this was to great effect, showing how Michael has a poor grasp on the obsession he has with mortality by giving us a poorer grasp on his thoughts. But the pacing was often awkward and left me wishing I was reading rather than listening, giving time to appreciate the nuance of language. I’ll give credit where credit is due, though, because it felt like was often to make good use of Clary’s impeccable sense of timing, but perhaps not best for the text.
The exploration of character was often vivid, but there were plenty of moments that led me thinking that the character of Michael was not only written for Julian Clary, but written as him – obviously not always a bad thing, with a wicked sense of humour. Despite this his loneliness oozed out, and his desperation for something unknown even to him was stark. Nelson-Joyce’s Tim, however, was an individual of terrifying contrast, vicious humour and shocking deception. A flawless performance, even if the character is full of faults.
I did enjoy this performance. At times it was clunky, others it was completely engaging. There were touching moments of honesty between the two men, but I couldn’t help but wish I had a chance to read it rather than see it.
Author: Stephen Clark
Director: Christopher Renshaw
Producer: Danielle Tarento
Box Office: 0844 871 7632
Booking link: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/le-grand-mort/trafalgar-studios/#buy-now
Booking until: 28th October 2017