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Dark Pony - Review - John Harvard Library

Reunion & Dark Pony, John Harvard Library – Review

Pros: The unusual setting in a library.
Cons: The large windows facing a busy street can be quite distracting.

Pros: The unusual setting in a library. Cons: The large windows facing a busy street can be quite distracting. A stone's throw from Borough station, John Harvard library bears the name of the Southwark clergyman who emigrated to Massachusetts in 1637 and bequeathed most of his estate (including 400 books) to the current Harvard University. Now, the structure is also home to a public Local History Library, offering a bright and accessible space for adults and younger readers. To celebrate National Libraries Week, theatre company Baseless Fabric has chosen this and five more south London public libraries as a…

Summary

Rating

This rarely performed double bill is both an ideal introduction to theatre for new audiences, and a treat for seasoned theatregoers.

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A stone’s throw from Borough station, John Harvard library bears the name of the Southwark clergyman who emigrated to Massachusetts in 1637 and bequeathed most of his estate (including 400 books) to the current Harvard University. Now, the structure is also home to a public Local History Library, offering a bright and accessible space for adults and younger readers. To celebrate National Libraries Week, theatre company Baseless Fabric has chosen this and five more south London public libraries as a backdrop for two of David Mamet’s rarely performed short plays, Reunion and Dark Pony.

For the first and longer play, Reunion, the audience was invited to sit around the coffee shop tables, after being informed – perhaps in light abuse of the word ‘immersive’ – that the performance would happen around them. It is the story of an estranged father who meets his daughter after decades of absence. A war veteran and former alcoholic, Bernie – played by TV celebrity David Schaal – mulls over past mistakes , whilst his daughter Carol (Siu-see Hung) gently points out how these affected her in the long term. The conversation between them is very civilised and only occasionally dented by moments of awkwardness. Their tone is calm; the drama unfolds slowly.

No purpose lighting, nor sound effects are introduced to mellow the stark lighting of the surrounding reading area and the natural noises coming from outside. Although hard to install in a working space, these technical elements would have helped substantially to maintain focus on the performance, whereas I found myself repeatedly distracted by the buzz of Borough High Street, visible through the large windows of the façade.

For the second play, Dark Pony, the organisers guided us to the children’s reading area, where colourful blankets, cushions and bean bags had been previously laid on the floor for us to sit on. Just seven minutes long, the piece feels like a jump back in time from Reunion, with a fatherly figure reading aloud a fable to his daughter. The atmosphere is cosy and the scene quite tender, whilst the father describes the adventures of a young native American and his brave horse.

Both Hung and Schaal are outstanding actors, able to neatly switch their characters from a vignette to the other, despite the minimal change of costumes and props. Curiously, I found that Hung shone more brilliantly in the first piece, whereas Schaal’s skill and voice command received a better highlight in the second one.

By touring this double bill around the capital, Baseless Fabric aim to raise awareness on exciting events happening in local libraries and using theatre as a form of engagement with new audiences. Community-oriented and registered as a charity since 2016, the company couldn’t have chosen a more suitable author for this purpose than the one who once said “My alma mater is the Chicago Public Library. I got what little educational foundation I got in the third-floor reading room, under the tutelage of a Coca-Cola sign”.

Author: David Mamet
Director: Joanna Turner
Producer: Baseless Fabric Theatre
Booking Link: http://www.baselessfabric.co.uk/mamet/
Booking Until: 15 October 2017

About Marianna Meloni

Marianna Meloni
Marianna, being Italian, has an opinion on just about everything and believes that anything deserves an honest review. Her dream has always been to become an arts critic and, after collecting a few degrees, she realised that it was easier to start writing in a foreign language than finding a job in her home country. In the UK, she tried the route of grown-up employment but soon understood that the arts and live events are highly addictive.