The City

By Martin Crimp. 

Nowyesnow. The Bakehouse Theatre. 13 Apr 2012 

For me this show needs to be considered in two fairly distinct parts; the production and the script.

Geordie Brookman has cast an outstanding line of up players for this production of The City. His direction is very clean and tight and allows the relationships between the characters to be fully explored through stillness, voice and intention. The incredibly high quality of the performances was the principal reason I felt personally able to stay connected with the work. Unfortunately however, despite the ingenious concepts in the script, the plays strongest attribute is also its biggest weakness.

This show has an “ah-huh” moment at its conclusion. A “twist” for want of a better word – which calls into question all that has come before it and provides a certain level of satisfaction and payoff for the audience. I found it frustrating though that it was such hard work and demanded so much focus to reach that point. On contemplation it felt like the whole play had been a drawn out vehicle for its revealing ending.

Ultimately however, this play could not have been penned in a more intriguing way – which leaves me feeling torn about its objectives, and its success. The show’s strength lies in the desperate level of psychosis written into each of the characters; its weakness, the fact that their psychosis makes them almost impossible to connect with.

The characters were passionately written and the actors created some incredibly moving moments of dialogue – moments in which you caught yourself holding your breath as they spoke. But finding a connection with these characters on any kind of personal level was challenging – if not impossible.

It is difficult to discuss plot without revealing too much of the story, so to say that the protagonist is a woman named Clair, and that her biggest challenges are the other people in her life is enough. She shares “The City” with her husband Chris, her neighbour Jenny, and an un-named young Girl who is her daughter. Other characters are implied and equally important, but all of these people share one commonality which is a clue to the ending – their interaction is entirely un-natural, almost surreal, always anxious and just slightly menacing.

It is difficult to see here where set design ends and the lighting design begins – but Victoria Lamb and Ben Fleet respectively, have managed to incorporate symbols in the writing on the stage, and then to move the scenes through various lighting states which heighten emotional conflict and define locations and spaces. Set and lighting are functional and inoffensive, but that seemed to be about all.

I really enjoyed the acting in this production, and Lizzy Falkland, Chris Pitman, Anna Steen and relative newcomer Matilda Bailey have all demonstrated why they are professionals who will continue to work at the high levels which they do. The play, however, I didn’t really enjoy. The payoff wasn’t big enough, and the difficulty I had connecting with any structured narrative or character left me wanting.

Congratulations to Brookman and the cast. This is one tough piece of work.

Paul Rodda

When: 12 to 28 April
Where: The Bakehouse Theatre
Bookings: www.bakehousetheatre.com