I was at the the National Theatre last night to watch a new experimental play by Mike Bartlett. The Cottesloe Theatre (one of the 3 theatres at the National Theatre) is not your average theatre with a stage at the front of the auditorium and rows of seats to the back. Oh no, the action takes place on a winding ‘stage’ (like an elevated catwalk) that goes through the centre of the space and/or at small recessed stages at either end of this space. There are also projections onto the walls to help establish the various scenes. The audience are situated either on chairs either side of the winding stage (and there were 2 gallery tiers above us on either side of the stage) or some members of the audience were right in amongst the action between the curves of the winding stage (although there wasn’t any audience participation so it wasn’t the worry we’d initially thought…) Without diagrams and photo’s I’m sure my description sounds like a lunatic trying to describe a complicated bad dream but i thought it was an excellent use of the space.
Despite an almost 3 hour running time (with a midway interval) it didn’t drag and they manage to cram quite a lot into it including nudity, singing, dancing, drug use and swearing (which, to be fair, I wasn’t entirely expecting). The over-riding theme is that of environmentalism (which i suppose is fairly timely) but it manages to cover a fair bit of other ground including relationships, anger, families, greed, lies. I’m sure you get the picture…
I’ve got to say I really enjoyed it and despite a little heavy handed imagery towards the end (trying to get the environmental point across) it certainly didn’t detract from the overall experience and i think it was really to just nail the point home.
I have been to a couple of similar ‘experimental’ plays before but they have both been disjointed and with little continuity between scenes. One was a version of Pulp Fiction which sounds a lot better than it was and the other was a decidedly odd play set in some tunnels under London Bridge. Whilst both these had certain interactive qualities that are usually lacking in a more standard style play they ultimately failed to deliver – whilst ‘Earthquakes in London’ seemed to get it just about right.
I thought the entire cast were great and I particularly enjoyed the performance of Brony Hannah as Tim. It also took me a while to place the person who plays the character called Colin (Tom Goodman-Hill) but when I finally worked it out it was none other than the dope-smoking policeman friend of Jonny Vegas from the TV show Ideal.
Anyway, i’m sure my little review has left you either wanting to go to see it or just scratching your head and wondering what kind of madman I am. I would suggest that you could do worse than going to see it and making your own mind up. And finally Kevin Spacey was also there – obviously checking out the opposition. I’d be interested to know what he made of it…