3 May 2016

Portia at Theatre503 was intelligent, provocative and entertaining


I was a little worried when booking to see Portia that it might stray dangerously into voyeurism because it is about sex and perversity, and I relied on the reputation of Theatre503 to make it theatre that I could feel both comfortable in and challenged by, as they had with Clickbait which could have set the same trap but did not.

Theatre503 also has the good sense to be in Battersea and above a pub. I took the scenic route there getting off the train at Queenstown Road and walking back through Battersea Park where the festival fountains were putting on an impressive display. I then ate and drank in the pub, The Latchmere,  before climbing the steep steps up to the theatre with a coffee. All of this excellent front of house stuff adds to the pleasure of the evening.

I asked at the box office how long Portia was due to play for, which was an hour (I do wish theatres would put the running times of their websites). Being on the short side was OK as that meant I would be home at a reasonable time. It also helped to explain the ridiculously low ticket price of £12.

I was the first into the theatre and claimed my usual seat in the middle of the front row. Writer and performer Lindsay Dukes was already on stage, apparently playing Candy Crush. Luckily she had her hood up so I was able to take my customary picture of my view of the stage without disturbing here.

This was a one woman show in which Lindsay mostly spoke to us about what she was doing and how she felt and she also acted out a some of the scenes.

Her story started of usual enough, she was an out of work actor, Gemma, filling the time waiting for her agent to call by playing Candy Crush where she had reached level eight hundred and something. She had recently split from her boyfriend Nat and was trying to compose a text to try and get him back. Nathan had left her because she had hit him expecting him to like it.

From there Gemma explored her own interest in being dominated and started going out with Dan (who she found on the internet) who dictated what wine she drank and what underwear she wore. Their relationship developed, if that is the right word, into the use of violence. Gemma was not always comfortable with this and still thought about Nathan from time to time.

That was much as I expected from the synopsis that I read beforehand and that could have been a voyeuristic look at a young woman's sexual fantasies but it was not. It was actually and intelligent and thoughtful play about a young woman trying to come to terms with several things, such as her family and career, as well as her relationships. And in trying to find a way she changed moods often, she could be the brash woman up for a spanking and also the timid woman with a touch of OCD making sure that the hob was switched off.

This is where the play's title came in. Portia, I had forgotten, is the only significant female role in Julius Caesar and Gemma used her as an example of how women could be strong but also as how they are often portrayed as being weak, as Shakespeare often did.

There was a lot of humour in there too as Gemma realised the silliness of some aspects of her life, such as having to use a bowl as her toilet was broken and she could not afford to fix it.

Three things made the play for me. The story had several threads all of which headed in uncertain directions. There was a lot of variety in the tone from the many laugh out loud moments through to the times I wanted to give her a hug and say that everything will be all right (even if I did not believe that). The performance by Lindsay Dukes was perfect, she got all the moods right (it obviously helped that she wrote it) and was both convincing and captivating.

Portia was exactly the sort of play that I go to Theatre503 to see and they deliver time after time.

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