Third International Playwrights Season – Reviews
Saturday, 6 April 2002
PUSH UP by Roland Schimmelpfennig
JERWOOD THEATRE UPSTAIRS 8 February – 2 March 2002
Direction: Ramin Gray
Design and Lighting: Rodney Grant
Sound: Ian Dickinson
Cast: Flaminia Cinque, Jaqueline Defferary, Nigel Lindsay, Robin Soans, Peter Sproule, David Tennant, Sian Thomas, Lucy Whybrow
‘…Roland Shimmelpfennig’s play turns out to be cool, ironic and almost classical in its structural formality. The most violent incident is when one woman throws a cup of coffee into another’s face, and the play is permeated with an elegiac feel of sadness and waste.
‘The action is set in the 16-storey headquarters of an international corporation. What it’s called and what it deals in are never revealed. The piece is topped and tailed by entertaining monologes by two security guards, one male and one female, who describe both the offices and the company’s corporate TV ad, which consists of a man carrying a woman over a large puddle in a park.
‘Such gallantry is in short supply in the corporation itself. The meat of this 90-minute play consists of three edgy, aggressive dialogues between rivals in the firm, which are intercut by the characters’ private thoughts and confessions, delivered direct to the audience.
‘In the first, Sabine (Lucy Whybrow) is trying to discover from a senior executive, Angelika (Sian Thomas), why she has been turned down for a coveted top job in the company’s Delhi office. The fact that Angelika believes that Sabine has been sleeping with her husband, Kramer, the firm’s boss, certainly hasn’t helped.
‘In the second, a thirtysomething executive, Robert (David Tennant), turns down a proposal from Patrizia (Jaqueline Defferary) for a new TV ad, identical, it turns out, to the one we have already heard described, except that the puddle is now located in New York’s Central Park. The face that these two once had great illicit sex together in Kramer’s office and were both too proud to contact the other afterwards, merely adds to their animosity.
‘In the third dialogue we return to the Delhi job for which both the elderly Hans (Robin Soans) and the thrusting young Frank (Nigel Lindsay) are competing. Yet what is palpable here, as in the two preceding scenes, is the emptiness of the characters’ lives. Hans is addicted to his exercise bike just as Frank is addicted to porn on the internet. And as the three sets of opponents describe their anxious existences, they often use exactly the same words to describe the same experience. These people ought to be friends or loves – not opponents.
‘Ramin Gray’s excellent production, stylishly designed by Rodney Grant, does full justice to a subtle and original work that hauntingly captures the anomie, loneliness and paranoia of modern business life. There isn’t a weak performance from an outsanding cast, but the barely controlled aggression between Whybrow and Thomas in the first dialogue, and the undertow of lust between Tennant and Defferary in the second are particularly riveting.’
The Daily Telegraph
‘The Royal Court has started its International Playwrights’ Season with a sleekly acted, immaculately directed (by Ramin Gray) German play by Roland Schimmelpfennig.’
‘This is an arresting piece, which makes one hope that the Court will import more of Schimmelpfennig’s work.’
‘The German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig makes his British debut with this tough, hard-edged play about tough, hard-edged people working for a tough, hard-edged corporation. You never find out what it produces, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is position, position, position; that is, of power or weaknesses. You might think it was a hard, unfeeling play about hard, unfeeling people, but you’d be wrong: under the tough-guy office-bitch presentation lie fears and insecurities, the panic of being overtaken. Sexual relations inside the office have all the unpredictability, even impersonality, of commercial relations. I liked Ramin Gray’s cool, crisp production. The actors, especially Sian Thomas, Lucy Whybrow, Robin Soans and David Tennant, are excellent.’
PLASTICINE by Vassily Sigarev
JERWOOD THEATRE UPSTAIRS 15 March – 6 April
Direction: Dominic Cooke
Designer: Ian MacNeil
Costume Designer: Joan Wadge
Lighting Designer: Johanna Town
Sound Designer: Paul Arditti
Movement Director: Liz Ranken
Composer: Gary Yershon
Cast: Daniel Cerqueira, Bryan Dick, Matthew Dunster, Molly Innes, Liz Kettle, Michael Legge, Mary Macleod, John Rogan, Russell Tovey, Myfanwy Waring, Liz White. (All other roles played by members of the company)
‘Watching this impressive and disturbing howl of a play by the young Russian writer, Vassily Sigarev is like taking a walk through a rough, druggy London scene after closing time. You have to watch your front – and back. For director Dominic Cooke’s hurtling production is a promenade experience. The audience, standing or walking around the open-space, ground level of designer Ian MacNeil’s ingenious scaffolded, two-tier set, is involuntarily caught up in the action. You have to move smartly as violent characters tear past or a huge prop – a two-storey tenement – is pushed in your direction.
‘…it has flashes of almost comic grotesquery, vividly communicates an alarming sense of contemporary urban Russia on the verge of anarchy and breakdown. In 33 scenes teenage, outcast Maksim trails his troubled way through an alienated city in the lower depths of violence and poverty. Even an attractive, frequently seen girl appears to him redolent of mocking sexuality.
‘People’s primary mode of communication is the curse or insult. Drunks and corrupt schoolteachers, women desperate for sex or love from strangers and gay rapists colour the townscape dark. Michael Legge’s introverted Maksim, whose show of calm and imperviousness gives way to shuddering fits of anguish and tears at night is a victim of this dehumanised society. Cooke’s production is astutely organised to suggest the lurid, comic extent to which these people have gone to the dogs – if that’s not insulting to canines.
‘When Maksim goes to pay respects to a schoolmate who killed himself, mourners creep from under the bed like beetles disturbed under a stone. An audience watches a new-porn film in wide-eyed, erotic excitement until it becomes a seething, single-minded mass. After Maksim and his treacherous mate, Bryan Dick’s Lyokha, are lured by a girl as bait for two young gay rapists, they are casually tossed down a cavity to the lower floor. Some performances, for example Molly Inne’s schoolteacher, who pounces on the boys in the urinals, are caricatured. But Legge’s doomed Maksim, for whom sex inspires revulsion and making plasticine effigies becomes the only relief, piercingly conveys his character’s repressed fury and terrible despair.’