Pros: A beautifully constructed script brought to life by two excellent actors.
Cons: The complete absence of anything resembling air conditioning at the venue, causing a dry, stifling atmosphere.
What better way to start the weekend than a visit to the King’s Head Theatre for the early 7pm show? I was lucky enough to see the European premiere of The Unbuilt City, starring Sandra Dickinson as Claudia and Jonathan Chambers as Jonah. The story begins on a cold afternoon in New York. Jonah is employed by a prominent university archive and has been asked to acquire a secret art collection belonging to the reclusive, mysterious Claudia. Jonah soon discovers this is no easy task as he struggles to build a rapport with the irascible owner. Jonah expected to conduct a simple inventory of the collection and make Claudia an offer she couldn’t refuse. However, Claudia is determined to learn something about Jonah before she yields to his request.
So begins a wonderfully expansive story of two equally complex characters. Jonah slowly appreciates the collection’s significance and how personal it is to Claudia. He also learns that financial considerations are not sufficient leverage alone. The collection represents Claudia’s life and over the course of 75 minutes we begin to understand how life experiences have shaped her view of the world. Jonah, suitably disarmed by her revelations, reveals a litany of failed and stuttering relationships. They may be a generation apart but they have trodden similar emotional paths.
For a play based on a very simple premise it goes on to explore the characters in a depth of detail I had not expected. I am loathe to use the ‘J’ word but this play does take the audience on a journey around the people and places that made Claudia and Jonah tick. Their emotional bond is sealed by a shared affection for their upbringing as native New Yorkers. Most pleasingly, we are presented with complete, well rounded characters who have an intriguing back story which is made possible by a well-judged script. However, even with the windows and back door open, the heat was absolutely stifling, and I can only imagine how much weight the actors lost on stage as they were sweating buckets. Sandra Dickinson and Jonathan Chambers were both excellent in their respective roles and captured the tangible chemistry essential for a two handed piece.
Author: Keith Bunin
Director: Glen Walford
Producers: Making Productions/Graffitti Productions in association with To the Moon
Box Office: 0207 226 8561
Booking Link: https://system.spektrix.com/kingsheadtheatre/website/eventdetails.aspx
Booking until: 30 June 2018