28 April 2012

Here at the Rose Theatre

First a confession. This poster is for another production of Here at a different Rose Theatre, I've used it simply because the Rose Theatre in Kingston does not put images of its posters on-line for reasons that escape me.

The big pulling power for the play comes from the name Michael Frayn who is enjoying a surge in popularity at the moment mostly thanks to a west-end revival of Noises Off.

I also like it that Frayn is a local guy, he went to Kingston Grammar School and lives just up the road from me in Petersham. I've been in his garden on open days and have seen him around locally including a recent shared journey on a 371 bus.

And it's a local theatre too which gives it a sense of homecoming for Frayn and makes the travel easy for me.

This was the first time that the Rose was set out as I always expected it to be with the stage thrust out towards the bench seats, filling "the pit" where people usually sit on cushions. The whole point of the Rose was to have an exciting stage, not to have exciting seating.

The play is set in an apartment within a house and begins with a young couple viewing it. They were just passing, saw the sign and thought that they would take a look.

The mood of the play is set immediately by the couple's dialogue. She likes the place but cannot really explain why and he wants to explore the decision making process between them to see if they have reached a decision on the flat and, if so, when and how they made it.

And so it goes on. They are clearly deeply in love and there is never a row, or even that much friction between them, but there is an incessant good natured battle of words.

Adding to the mix is the old woman who is letting the room. She appears at intervals to regale them with tales of former inhabitants and her family.

I'm not quite sure what the point of this character is. She adds nothing to the plot and adds little to our understanding of the couple who are the centre and purpose of the play. It does not help either that this is played by a known actress, Alison Steadman, as this risks making it a cameo role further deflecting from the play's mission.

So let's get back to the couple.

It's no surprise that they move in to the flat and they stay there for some and then leave when she becomes pregnant.

The four stages in their story are decision, arrival, settled-in and departure.

The third scene scene seems a little pointless, the story does not progress and we learn nothing new about the couple from their dialogue. I was definitely drifting off at times, not helped by the half-time bottle of Becks.

The middle sluggishness aside, the play fizzes through its dialogue. It's not quite the relentless one-liners of American sit-coms but it's heading that way, and in a nice way.

The play needs a convincing couple and this production has one. Alex Beckett is pedantic, awkward and a little intense while Zawe Ashton balances this with her enthusiasm, patience and good humour. Together they make the play work.

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