Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Last Tango at St Leonard’s / Pipe Dreams – Lantern Theatre Liverpool – 19/11/2013

Another evening of fresh, new theatre in the friendly buzz of the Lantern, with this double bill.

Last Tango at St Leonard’s first hit the boards in September as part of the Write Now festival at Unity Theatre, where it enjoyed two performances and collected three performance awards.

If you put John Cleese and John le Mesurier into a cocktail shaker you might well pour out something like Thomas Casson in his portrayal of the hyperventilating hospital administrator Eddie, for which he was named best actor. He is a tall actor and the tiny stage of the lantern makes him appear even more so, exaggerating the larger than life style in which the character is drawn. In his increasingly desperate efforts to save the hospital from threatened closure he embodies so many middle aged middle managers that we have probably all met. Imagine if you can a blend of Basil Fawlty and Sergeant Wilson and you’ve got something like Eddie.

Natalie Kennedy is a delight to watch and is a perfect foil to Eddie in the part of Elaine, as she follows him faithful as a puppy about the set with eyes like soup-plates. She is besotted, but Eddie is so wrapped up in the daily grind it takes him almost the full hour of the one-acter to realise it. Kennedy took runner up best actress at Write Now for this role.

Alongside this comic pairing was the hyper-efficient Cheryl, with Josie Sedwick Davies stepping ably into the part at short notice. She is all flapping hands and short of patience for Eddie and Elaine but not quite on the ball enough to notice the scam pulled off by the rehabilitated convict-come- IT man - Darren Pritchard (runner up best actor). Pritchard plays this very straight, as does Philip Barwood-Scott as Malcolm, grounding the play and setting the parts for Casson and Kennedy into sharp relief.

Last Tango at St Leonard’s was written by Mari Lloyd and directed by Lydia Searle, and it manages to extract a good deal of humour from some of the serious issues of hapless management in the NHS. I’d like to say that at some of the situations were a little far-fetched, but sadly I actually do remember an incident some years ago when a manager in my own workplace held the door for someone stealing a computer...
After an interval came the second play of the evening, Pipe Dreams, written and directed by Sarah Van Parys. Pipe Dreams was originally presented as part of the Luxembourg ten minute theatre festival last year and Van Parys has now fleshed it out into a full one act play, lasting approximately an hour. The promo material tells us it now makes less sense than before.
Despite programme references to absurdists Pirandello and Ionesco, most of us would probably be rather more likely to recognise Beckett in this play, which is certainly absurd and often surreal - increasingly so as it progresses.
A besuited neighbour played by Robert Moore comes and goes and tries to make some sense of things. The cast heet describes him as Narrator but perching Puck-like on a window ledge to observe the action he acts rather more in the role of chorus.
In their sitting room a mildly clumsy, tea slurping John (James Price) and his partner (Shawney Ross) appear to re-live the same sequence of events over and over again, becoming ever more frustrated by the crazed interjections from Lee Burnitt and Claire Bryan’s Nigel and Wife. Most bizarre of all though, are the repeated appearances of Jack Spencer as a debt collector – at first seemingly ordinary, if a little off balance, but with each entrance becoming odder and odder in both manner and attire.
All six of the cast gave engaging performances, but it is the extremes of John and the Debt Collector that defined this piece for me. James Price balanced his delivery so as to make John appear ordinary despite the situation, while Jack Spencer’s obvious delight in layering the madness on the Debt Collector was mesmerising.
Despite the deepening mayhem that surrounds them, our hapless couple seem to end the play on the way to some sort of resolution or at least resignation.
This double bill played two nights at the Lantern Theatre Liverpool on 18th and 19th November. Keep an eye on their website, as shows mostly have short runs and seats sell out quickly.

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