11 November 2011

A Walk in the Woods at the Tricycle Theatre

An annoying bought of something flu-like kept me indoors for a few days and in that time I managed to miss two ghostly tours, a play at the National and, most depressingly, a John Watts / Fischer-z concert. My cultural duck was finally broken with A Walk in the Woods.

This was both a first and a second. It was my first time at the Tricycle Theatre in the lesser known Brondesbury (conveniently, for me, located on the North London Line from Richmond)but my second time at this play. I first saw A Walk in the Woods in 1988 in what proved to be Sir Alec Guinness' last part in the West End. Clearly a hard act to follow.

The Tricycle is another neat small theatre that has its idiosyncrasies.

The reception area, shared with a cinema, is excellent. It's lighting, colours, decor, menu and selection of drinks are distinctly modern, comfortable and welcoming. I like that in a theatre as I usually arrive in good time for a drink and so its nice to have something drinkable behind the bar and somewhere to sit and drink it.

The theatre is very different. It looks recently and hastily constructed (much as the Arcloa does) and has a quirky seating arrangement imposed by the narrow space that it has been squeezed in to.

The first few rows are free seating but they are below stage level, then there are a few rows that can be booked and then a few more rows of free seating.

There is one row of seats on the right side and three on the left but these look straight ahead at the stalls, rather than towards the stage, and these filled last. There is an upstairs too but I did not climb up the scaffolding steps to see what this looks like.

The stalls were OK but the pitch is not that great and I was grateful when a small couple sat in front of me.

The play consists entirely of the conversations of two arms reduction negotiators as they take breaks from the formal talks to walk in the woods and sit on a bench.

The set changes little during the play, doing just enough to suggest the passing of seasons. This is good, the play is not about the set and could be delivered without one.

There are only two actors, an older man representing Russia and a younger woman batting for the USA. He wears a thick coat of cynicism gained from years of fruitless negotiation and she is fresh and enthusiastic, new to the role she is keen to be successful.

It's enthralling to watch the debate and relationship between them develop as they try to reconcile their differences in style and position. It's a battle between East and West, young and old, fatalism and hope, familiarity and professionalism, hare and tortoise, and so it goes.

What they share is the unfair spotlight on their performance and the personal consequences for their careers if they fail.

External politics intrude and at times they both have to explain why their governments are taking unreasonable positions in the negotiations.

Neither actor would claim to be Sir Alec Guinness but Myriam Cyr and Steven Crossley are more than competent. They are completely believable and lovable. We come to care as much about their futures as the safety of the world.

As is the modern trend, we watch the story unfold without a break but a good play easily keeps your attention and to stop for an ice cream while a nuclear holocaust is threatened would somehow seem immoral.

A Walk in the Woods attacks a difficult subject with intelligence and charm while managing to entertain as it does so. A real delight.

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