Saturday 19 March 2022

The Woods - Review

Southwark Playhouse


Written by David Mamet
Directed by Russell Bolam

Francesca Carpanini and Sam Frenchum

Catching up with The Woods late in its run at the Southwark Playhouse, offers an opportunity to consider this by-now well matured interpretation of David Mamet's 1977 study of the sexes. 

Covering one night from dusk to dawn the tight two-hander sees Nick and Ruth staying at his remote summer house in the northern USA. Mamet deliberately leaves the history of the couple's relationship opaque, it is evident that there once was a burning love between the pair, the smouldering ashes of which are extinguished before our eyes in the play's 90 minute one-act narrative. 

Mamet's text outlines a clear connection with nature and the gods even as Nick and Ruth’s love breathes its last, flailing like a landed fish that dies before our eyes. Sam Frenchum's Nick is the more damaged of the two, lurching from tender intimacy through to violent misogyny. But while Nick clearly can exert physical power over Francesca Carpanini's Ruth, it is she who ultimately wields the emotional axe. 

Typically Mamet holds the drama's darkest menace back until the play's bloodied, enigmatic endgame but as Nick loses control, Ruth emerges to dominate her beastly, beasted ex-lover by the final curtain.
Russell Bolam directs with sensitivity with an equal nod to Haruka Kuroda for staging the moments of undoubtedly complex intimacy with a convincing authenticity. Likewise, Anthony Lamble’s simply stark set and Bethany Gupwell’s lighting are as effective.

A rarely performed piece, this iteration of The Woods has one week left to run and is well worth seeing.

Runs until 26th March
Photo credit: Pamela Raith

Wednesday 2 March 2022

Primo - Review


Antony Sher

Adapted by Antony Sher from If This Is A Man by Primo Levi
Directed by Richard Wilson

The film of Primo,  Antony Sher's translation of Primo Levi's  If This Is A Man from page to stage, has recently been released to stream by Digital Theatre. Made in 2005, the movie is directed by Richard Wilson who also helmed the original 2004 Royal National Theatre production.

Levi's work is an opus on the horrendous scale of the horrors of the Holocaust, but viewed from his very singular perspective as a man who was not only subject to the nightmares of the concentration camps, but who ultimately survived Auschwitz. Sher's interpretation of Levi's testimony is a tour de force.

The brutality of the Holocaust so often spelled out in the scale of its slaughter, is reduced by Levi to the minutiae of individual humans, the unimaginable detail of their lives and deaths in the hell of Auschwitz, but described with a harrowing eye for detail. From the glimpses of passing stations and landscapes, momentarily seen through the gaps in his cattle truck's walls, through to recognising the provenance of different camp inmates through the number tattooed on their arm, it is the detailed horrific picture painted by Levi’s, and ultimately Sher’s, words that define this unique narrative.

Hildegard Bechtler has designed a stage that is bare save for a solitary chair, amidst Paul Pyant’s stark but carefully plotted lighting designs. A haunting cello accompaniment from Jonathan Goldstein underlies Sher's eloquent reverence as his spoken narrative transports the audience/viewer from Italy through Austria, Czechoslovakia and ultimately Poland, all under the malevolent control of the Third Reich. 

Levi died in April 1987 and Sher much more recently in December 2021. The recording of this drama is a tribute to them both – it is unmissable.