Tag Archives: Frankie Bradshaw

Blues for an Alabama Sky – National Theatre

A lack of choice connects female stories across the ages as women find themselves hemmed in by a lack of opportunity, access to education and agency to determine their own path. Some of those structures are patriarchal, others economic and social, but all of them restrict and confine, ensuring women become something other than themselves. Looking across cultural representations of women in the past 100 years it is possible to draw connections between characters such as Hester Collier in Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, Patrick Hamilton’s Jenny from Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, even up to Kyo Choi’s Kim Han-See in The Apology, all of whom are in pursuit of a fantasy life that will never be fulfilled. Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky, opening at the National Theatre this week, adds another unknowingly tragic heroine to that list, singer Angel who will grasp at an opportunity to get out of Harlem in 1930.

The concept of the American Dream and the extent to which it ever applied to women is something that Cleage explores in her play as every character pursues something beyond themselves, something better that will fundamentally alter the daily grind and transform them. Written in 1995, Cleage’s play draws heavily on the intimate boarding house and lodgings worlds of Rattigan and Hamilton in which urban, financially straightened lives are stacked together in densely packed neighbourhoods. And like these earlier works, Cleage emphasises the individual humanity and consequent value of the decent, hardworking community she depicts in a progressive piece that looks to personal attributes rather than limited religious and moral codes imposed by others to shape our responses to her cast.

Cleage sets the action primarily in a single two-room apartment over several weeks which becomes the focus of interaction between neighbours, lovers and friends navigating the next stage of their lives during the Great Depression. And Cleage quickly establishes a group of forward-looking dreamers, people seen as radical in quite different ways by their own community, sometimes dangerously so and not for the reasons we might expect. The context is constrictive and mundane – economic downturn, prohibition and high unemployment (symbolised by the lead characters losing their jobs at the start of the play) – but the lives within are nonetheless vibrant, full of possibility for bettering themselves and their local area while embracing the growing devotion to popular culture that provides a two folder escape – one in their imagination and one in reality.

Angel and her best friend Guy are characters whose dream life and real life could unite, bringing them both the recognition and glamour they crave. Guy’s work as a designer for cabaret and performance artists is sustained by the dream of working for Josephine Baker in Paris to whom he has an unexplained connection. But it drives his narrative, allowing him to indulge in the fantasy of working for her, which he cannot be swayed from, while practically working towards it with a job that puts him at the centre of a creative local scene of parties, drinking and affairs which simultaneously becomes a refuge from the daily grind. Angel meanwhile takes on work as a singer to support her dream of becoming a more famous singer. Yet her dream is compromised by an innate recognition that she will never achieve it, and instead pursues a course of survival that results in more questionable behaviour. Is Angel an inescapable and inevitable product of her gendered circumstances, Cleage askes, or does she actively sabotage herself to ensure those dreams always fail?

Throughout Blues for an Alabama Sky, Angel is a character with a notable duality. There is a deep vulnerability stemming from the knowledge that her body as much as her voice has sustained her, attracting a series of ‘gangsters’ and inappropriate men who only maintain a passing interest beyond the instant gratification of being her lover. And Angel actively seems to be looking for love, each encounter beginning with the hope that, like Sally Bowles, maybe this time it will work out. All of this pain makes Angel such a powerful blues singer, leaving the audience to hope that she will make it after all.

Like Rattigan’s Hester, Hamilton’s Jenny and indeed Isherwood’s Sally, Angel is under the illusion that she has choice, that she can direct and shape the future before her. Hester believes that if Freddy could just return her feelings with the same fervor, rendering all other difference between them immaterial, everything will be fine; Jenny is looking for the next man who can give her the material comforts she deserves and Sally too is looking for something real, that the next man will see her for the first time. Angel likewise falsely clings to the notion that traditional respectability – husband, family and home – will somehow snuff out all the other things she has had to do to achieve them, that if a man can love her enough, everything else will be insignificant, even her own desires. That each of these women is trapped into dependence on a man to rescue them is entirely a product of their society and the expectations placed on women to conform even when they are already living outside those structures. The tragedy comes from the failure of men to accept them and how decidedly that destroys their hopes.

A further tragedy in Angel’s character, and perhaps the most important moral point of Cleage’s work, is that Angel has gradations of selfishness that steal her happy ending, that she is prepared to stomp over anyone to get what she thinks she wants. In contrast to the behaviour of other characters, Angel uses people, lies and even betrays herself in order to become the potential wife that beau Leland may accept. And in the process she tears down her friend Guy in order to do it. These are survival techniques of a women with only herself to rely on, but in using her body to secure a different kind of status that she hopes will bring respectability and stability – regardless of his own questionable views – her body creates a response of its own, one which Angel coldly manages when a better opportunity presents itself.

Contrast this with Cleage’s parallel creation, Delia, Guy’s neighbour, who forms a counterpoint to the central pairing and in many ways is the pure heart of Blues for an Alabama Sky. Delia is a prototype for women’s rights, recognising the distressing lives of her community and prepared to face personal approbation and resistance by opening a Family Planning clinic. Though herself a virgin, as Guy discovers early on, Delia is an advocate of choice that will give women biological and economic freedom, and the play follows her progress through religious and medical objections, creating a character who is constructively forward-thinking and virtuous in her motives.

But Delia is given complexity through her growing attraction to local doctor Sam and her uncomplicated affection and acceptance of her neighbours. Non-judgmental, inclusive and encouraging, Delia experiences difficulty throughout the play quite differently to Angel and that treatment comes from character’s essential goodness and desire to contribute something beyond herself. The outcomes of the play, though tragic for the women in various ways, reflect a moral judgement by the writer who sets quite different paths for them both – Delia afforded true and reciprocated feeling that expands her emotional experience as a woman while Angel is left almost exactly where we found her; perhaps a little harder, more jaded but about to embark on the same destructive cycle.

The male characters by contrast are notably defined by their location, Guy and Sam products of Harlem while lover Leland bringing a darker cloud emanating from his Alabama moral and deeply Christian views that cause significant disruption within the group, shaping the plays central questions about appropriate ways to live. Men too are limited by their world and while it is perhaps too easy to suggest they suffer differently to women, Cleage looks at questions of masculinity and expectation in urban environments. That Guy represents a challenge to the traditional notions of manliness which Leland symbolises is one of Cleage’s most engaging themes as the two contend for a kind of primacy that manifests in a fight for Angel’s soul.

Guy is the kinder man which is reflected in Cleage’s perspective on female agency in the play, as he supports the development of his friend while Leland actively seeks to limit her. Sam likewise plays a role in facilitating Delia’s success, a meeting of minds that takes place in an enclosed but open-minded community where a modern morality and approach to sex, work and shared living finds itself hampered by traditional regulation and attitudes. Leland is the faultline along which these two worlds meet and collide, bringing dangerous but decisive consequences for the Harlem set.

The first half of the play is, by extension, very character and scenario focused, and while it establishes the narrative and motivational drivers, Cleage spends a long time setting-up the parameters in which the more traditional drama will then play out in the final third of the action, the pace of which Director Lynette Linton manages really well. Some may find it slow and ponderous while others will be fascinated by the ways in which Cleage constructs these lives and starts to draw the audience into their story, only realising in the final scenes how the long work of Act One created investment in the happiness and success of these neighbours, and how affectingly Cleage has created their circumstances and choices.

Samira Wiley captures all the contradictions in Angel’s character, the love of the party and that underlying fear that it is almost over for her that brings out a kind of desperation. Angel is deeply cynical, almost ground down in her belief that dreams don’t come true and the actor develops her pragmatic, sometimes cruel and headstrong side as she sets her sights on a more achievable outcome, all the while Wiley’s maintains Angel’s refusal to accept this is not what she truly wants. Ronke Adekoluejo’s Delia is a complete contrast with plenty of contradictions that help to make the character more rounded. Adekoluejo makes her shy and determined, innocent but knowledgeable about the medical needs of women, radical in her vision for the community and acceptance of others but looking for a traditional loving relationship, all of which Adekoluejo makes relatable and credible.

Giles Terera has a very busy rep season ahead, rehearsing the leading role in Othello opening in November as well as playing the flamboyant Guy here. Terera’s sensitive performance is very smart, taking a character who lives a bigger life than the others, filled with showbusiness parties and aspirations but still making him vulnerable, grounded and loyal to the people he cares about. There are some great scenes with Osy Ikhile’s Leland as the two men prowl around one another, subtly glaring as their very different outlooks clash, while Sule Rimi places Sam somewhere between the two, rational about the everyday needs of his patients but equally drawn to the possibility of finally meeting someone to share with it.

Staged on Frankie Bradshaw’s superb rotating house set, which echoes Tom Scutt’s excellent semi-translucent design for the 2016 production of The Deep Blue Sea, it creates a sense of lives packed in and overlapping. Blues for an Alabama Sky has much to say about the price of giving up on a dream and why it is often a woman who has to compromise. All of Angel’s choices are ultimately taken from her and while others may find a different future at the end of the play, like Hester, Jenny and Sally, Angel can never be anything else.

Blues for an Alabama Sky is at the National Theatre until 5 November with tickets from £20. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook Cultural Capital Theatre Blog.

Mad House – Ambassador’s Theatre

For the second time in successive weeks an American family drama opens in the West End and while Jitney may be a less obvious group of characters, the premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s new play Mad House focuses on a more traditional dynamic. U.S Theatre is filled with dysfunctional family dramas and the relationships between siblings, parents and wider groups of relatives that tend to motor them. A frequent theme used by writers as diverse as Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and more recently Brendan Jacobs-Jenkins and Tracy Letts, unlike their television and film counterparts, stage families are rarely happy groups and Rebeck finds a somtimes winning black humour in the combination of cantankerous relations and end of life care.

Jacobs-Jenkins’s Appropriate adopted a similar structure as a group of frustrated and estranged siblings return to the house they grew up in after their remaining parent died, looking for the building itself to yield secrets about its occupants. Rebeck – who notably also wrote Smash currently in development as a stage musical – also utilises the varied dramatic potential of the reunion but carefully spreads entrances out across the show to alter the dynamic as new arrivals create tonal shifts and generate opportunities to broaden conversational and behavioural tropes as the story unfolds.

Family drama may be set in the present but is almost always a vehicle primarily to examine the past, the individual lives and the experiences of a group of people who know each other intimately but whose lives have often developed quite differently and with each member of the family having differing degrees of investment in the original parental relationship or home. Tracing that back to their experiences in this house – usually through childhood resentments or traumatic experiences – exposes the uneven treatment they at least felt they received from their parents and becomes the core of why these people are who they are now and potentially what they will be by the end of the show.

Mad House actually changes shape across the 2 hours of performance time, neatly dividing into a straightforwardly comedic first half in which long-suffering Michael is relieved to meet new hospice nurse Lillian and a more straightforwardly dramatic second in which the expected secrets, betrayals and lies are revealed. Staged around the repeated arrival of new characters to repoint the drama and reposition what the audience has been shown in a much larger family context, Rebeck begins with an establishment scene, creating the charged interaction between father Daniel whose life is ending due to terminal emphysema and his wearied son Michael who returned eleven months ago to care for his father in his final months of life.

As serious as that scenario may be on paper this is no sentimental story of palliative heroism or tearful declarations of late-blooming filial love. Rebeck instead builds a deep and vocal resentment between father and son, building on a lifetime of mutual dislike to create an emotionally heightened scenario as Mad House opens, one that plays on the antipathy of its central ‘odd couple’. The audience learns quickly that neither man behaves well, purposefully seeking to thwart and antagonise the other and as much as they despise their situation there is a secret pleasure in locking horns over the trivialities of soup quality and whether Daniel should be smoking, with neither backing down in the sharp exchanges of cutting dialogue that Rebeck’s characters speedily fire at each other.

Into this semi-battleground nurse Lillian becomes the first external caller, a stranger to the family who throughout the play refuses to be drawn into the game between Daniel and Michael, although a timely intervention in family business will have significant consequences later on. Rebeck uses this tool twice more with the arrival of son Ned in the middle of the first half who like an equivalent character in Appropriate brings a fish-out-of-water, city perspective to Daniel’s lifestyle, returning home with personal gain in mind. Pam’s entrance as the conclusion to the largely comedic part of the play alters the narrative once again, and, as a more serious-minded character, pushes the show in a slightly different direction, her presence deliberately sapping what little sense of fun the play had built.

Across several scenes that represent weeks of activity, Rebeck develops layers of outrageousness that escalate across the play, using a farce-like model to up the ante as events become increasingly out of control. Although the humour is rarely physical, the extreme nastiness and curmudgeonly nature of Daniel’s character is ignited by Michael’s experience in a mental health facility some years before which becomes a major reference point for his character and is used by others to control and attack him. As they snipe at each other, openly discussing the inevitable, Daniel seeks ways to escape his incapacitation and as the 70-year old becomes all but bedridden, Mad House questions Michael’s increasingly reckless behaviour, culminating in a slightly over-egged but nonetheless dramatically effective finale scene in Act One that arguably takes the comedy as far as it can go while set entirely in a kitchen.

Throughout this first part of the play, Rebeck has woven in the resentments and painful collective memories that underscore the later drama. The arrivals tool gives the writer different ways to use her characters as well as adding extra dimensions as they start to form alliances – often short lived of course – that move the plot along. In Act Two this comes to the fore as the serious consequences of the earlier part of the play come into focus and the true darkness of this family dynamic finally plays out. With siblings Michael, Ned and Pam now under one roof with slightly different agendas plus nurse Lillian taking sides at last, Rebeck puts different groups in cahoots with one another to fight over their family legacy and their different interpretations of the past.

Act Two has two long scenes set on the porch outside and it is here that the traditional airing of grievances occurs as all three of Daniel’s children take the opportunity to reflect on the life they have lived together, the timeline and responsibility for their mother’s death from cancer while Michael was in hospital and their schemes following the imminent death of their father. Ned and Pam are not well drawn enough for this to be an entirely successful conversation, both there largely as negative reflections of Michael who they attempt to trigger, nor do they possess any real subtly in the personalities that Rebeck has given them, but this is the meat of the show and the confrontation that everything before has been building to, a chance for the audience and the individuals to finally understand the truth before its consequences are felt in the final scene.

But what is the outcome that Mad House is looking for? It concludes quite decisively but also in a sudden way, our two central characters Daniel and Michael are given the ending they perhaps desire and the audience is left with certainty about the life of this family, even given a single moment of romanticism that slightly recasts the relationship between father and son. Yet, this finale is not truly satisfying. Perhaps the ‘bad’ characters are too simplistic in their demands and their tactics to feel truly bested, perhaps Michael has endured too much for so neat a conclusion, maybe the intensely talky revelations of the second half can’t match the more entertaining brutal comedy of the first Act. Perhaps this is really a character piece about two men who should have just had the floor for longer.

David Harbour gives a really big performance as Michael, one that fills the room and brings multi dimensions to what is a complex character. Michael is trapped in a kind of no man’s land between the difficult life he had before and whatever he wants to do next. Formerly holding a Wall Street job like his brother and working for a major oil company, Harbour shows how Michael’s breakdown took all of the fight out of him, returning to a half-life in the family home where memories and notions of failure have plagued him throughout his life. When we meet Michael, he’s worn out, barely dressed to leave the house and deeply frustrated as much with himself as with his father.

Across the play, Harbour explores Michael’s reawakening, a process that is not always attractive as he makes questionable decisions and rails loudly against the pressures and judgement of his family. He’s not always successful in controlling himself but Harbour’s Michael isn’t regressing as his sister asserts but slowly developing a strength that allows him to face himself for the first time. Added to that the acerbic style that Harbour brings to his comedy timing and this performance helps to lift the play.

So too does Bill Pullman’s Daniel, a world away from the surface decency and upstanding certainty of his Joe in the Old Vic’s All My Sons. Daniel may be another family man but this demands a very different kind of physical performance from Pullman, one that requires plenty of wheezing, coughing and fragility that the actor subtly draws. The boldness in Daniel doesn’t come from his condition, which is like a continued base note, but from his vivid personality, a man lost to time, a vile incarnation of his particular generation.

Much of that is played for laughs of course, though his sometimes shocking diatribes evoke more nervous laughter than confederacy with the audience. Daniel is not a man who understand the world as it is now or even cares to, much of what he says is unpleasant, bigoted and often circular, confounding his own arguments with more bile, but Pullman never holds back from any of it, allowing this man to be fully seen. That Pullman still elicits the tiniest moments of empathy is remarkable, to be able to contextualise Daniel as a sick old man with little left to live for is the gift of this performance and Mad House is really at its best when Harbour and Pullman are alone onstage.

Akiya Henry carves a niche for herself as nurse Lillian, a calming presence whose prioritisation of care seems to be the one thing always missing from this household, but Lillian holds her own and refuses to be cowed by either man while building a valuable rapport with both that becomes decisive. Stephen Wright and Sinead Matthews have less to work with as Ned and Pam, the fairly unscrupulous brother and sister who couldn’t care less about their father, but both actors elevate the material they’ve been given and demand their place in the action.

Staged on Frankie Bradshaw’s run down kitchen set that revolves to reveal an exterior porch, there is considerable attention to detail here from the yellow-tinged windows that speak to years of nicotine staining to the grubby-bottomed fridge and tired decor, there is no mistaking this house for any of the grand and cosy family abodes that we’re so used to seeing for American families. Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s direction is pretty pacy, controlling the necessary comings and goings well, managing the changes of pace particularly in the more introspective second half and the show rarely feels its length.

This production of Mad House, which officially opens later this week, really gets to grips with the multiple meanings of its title – the fury of its characters, its interest in the implications of mental health hospitalisation and the comedic frenzy it implies. Its slightly formulaic second half may not quite fit the pieces together but this unsentimental family drama, headed by two characterful performances from Harbour and Pullman, almost hits the mark.

Mad House is at the Ambassador’s Theatre until 4 September with tickets from £25. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook Cultural Capital Theatre Blog.

ASSEMBLY – Donmar Local

ASSEMBLY - Donmar Warehouse

While many productions have been postponed in the last year, the effect on community theatre has probably been least discussed with the inability to gather in groups having a major impact on the outreach and engagement programmes of theatres across the country. Several of the London venues have reputed community projects working with groups who live and work in the vicinity of the theatre or in one of its partnership institutions. The National Theatre’s Public Acts initiative has brought well-received interpretations of Shakespeare and Brecht to its main stages, the Almeida Theatre has a number of community response projects that engage with its main shows while the Donmar Warehouse was due to launch its first Donmar Local production before the pandemic which was instead premiered as an online production on Saturday.

Written by Nina Segal and directed by Joseph Hancock, ASSEMBLY is a 70-minute production created with residents and workers in the boroughs of Camden and Westminster considering what a future might look like and the limits of human endeavour. Streamed from 16 UK locations, this inaugural play mixes a semi-dystopian style with an increasingly surreal, fantasy approach to consider the impact of climate change, the difficulties of consensus decision-making and the fallacy that the future is something that can be controlled.

The Play

Segal’s increasingly strange story begins with the appointment of a Citizens Assembly given a remit to decide what comes next, to design an unlimited vision for the future together as chosen representatives of humanity – their first democratically agreed act being to adjourn the meeting until everyone is individually furnished with a cup of tea and a biscuit or toast, a humorous observation about people’s priorities that becomes characteristic of ASSEMBLY’s observational and surrealist comedy. The split screen effect employed to show various cups of tea and coffee being made and custard cream packets being opened adds nicely to the effect.

As the ten contributors begin to debate what to keep with suggestions raging from houses and paths to marmalade and disco balls, Segal’s concept seems focused on the silliness and triviality of human thinking. Yet, the frame nods to plays like Kafka’s The Trial and Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People which focus on the attempt to fit complex and varied humanity into inflexible institutional processes, where characters attempt to work within or fight against a system that will ultimately consume or overtake them. These early scenes in ASSEMBLY have some of that same quality as people with opposing perspectives try and fail to see beyond the here and now to conceive an entirely different world, and instead are draw to the familiar.

It leads to some interesting early debates which the play addresses in a slightly haphazard way as characters question whether existing structures and basic requirements for food and shelter will be the same in the future, wonder what is so wrong with the present and think about the nature of utopia and whether it should be an aspirational ideal for their task. There are also questions about the implementation of this future, whether it can be achieved bloodlessly, without some form of revolution and whether the group should approach the design from the perspective of what to include or what to leave out.

The inability to think beyond the status quo and create radical alternative solutions is a common failing in change management projects where sweeping away every structure, working practice and system is often inconceivable to those who have worked within them. So these are really engaging scenes which Segal’s show could think about more broadly and potentially expand in a future iteration that could explore the failings of humanity and its limited scope for genuine innovation when given a blank piece of paper.

The second half of ASSEMBLY is far stranger and from the point at which a blood-stained polar bear joins the meeting as a ‘citizen’ the show never quite regains its equilibrium as Segal heads in a different direction entirely, creating a Creatures Assembly that includes natural resources such as a glacier, a heatwave and the wind, with mice, a bee and a plant who consort to disrupt the increasingly fraught human meeting and occupy the building themselves. This new cataclysmic strain is more straightforward in its comment on the effect of climate change where the angry interactions between different elements focuses on melting, flooding and burning as the inevitable outcomes of the future.

While these sections feel a little unfocused and may be harder to follow depending on how jaunty or surreal you like your theatre, they usefully note that there is more than just a human future at stake which requires broader input and consideration. But the play is joined together by a strand of Future News which neatly satirises the media’s approach to disaster reporting with few positives, while the reporter creates on air conflict between phone-in guests by encouraging inflammatory opinions and extremism, later broadcasting from a warzone as a natural disaster sweeps through the future.

A conclusion involving a polar bear baby, the universe and a lingering sense of ambiguity is partially satisfying and a little wistful. ASSEMBLY could, however, return to some of those early questions about the inevitability of violence, the existential comfort of utopian ideals and the failure of democratic consensus more clearly to reinforce the ending by joining up the seemingly fruitless attempt to impose ‘order’ on the process of creating a future in the early scenes with the limited power and grand naivety of humanity to control nature and fate.

Production Approach

It has been noted many times how progressive digital theatre has become in the last few months, moving away from the limited Zoom box visual to create more integrated backdrops, visual fluidity and immersion in the story to try to overcome the distance between performers and viewers. For ASSEMBLY, director Hancock employs some interesting techniques to give the film a colourful and memorably heightened style, building on the split screen idea used in the tea-making interlude to include hotspots through which characters can speak, integrating graphics and animation and using costume to create a consistency and distinction that is full of craft.

Cardboard is designer Frankie Bradshaw’s material of choice used to convey basic instructions to the audience with chapter headings drawn in marker pen that signal the changing nature of the assembly, but it is also employed in a more sophisticated design with a small city created entirely from cardboard comprising the main classically-designed town hall with Corinthian columns, a rising motorway covered in cars, high rise buildings, factories and a giant antenna. It is a beautiful piece of model-making to neatly represent the impending destruction of existing institutions and structures.

This versatile material is equally integral to Bradshaw’s vivid costumes which dominate the second half of the show as natural elements, creatures and astral objects become the focus. Much work has clearly gone into the creation of headdresses and hats that help to personify these creations including an excellent sunflower shaped structure with yellow petals and leaves that fit around the face of the actor in the centre, a white cloud headpiece with vivid blue raindrops suspended from its edges and a fiery orange wig for the heatwave. Bradshaw’s work on the planets is equally impressive with a fascinator made of planet rings containing a wire solar system, a silver, sleepy crescent moon and a bright, dominant sun.

It is the creativity and visual style of ASSEMBLY that really impresses, placing these cleverly representative costumes in Andrzej Goulding’s video settings to suggest the starry night sky or the swirling winds of a tornedo when the glacier, wind and heatwave get too close. Characters are also placed around the screen in different patterns, seen through what seem to be burn-holes in the atmosphere while Bradshaw’s town model is shown either in the centre of the screen or in the corner, the Assembly Hall always the focus of the characters.

Hancock controls all of these elements with skill, capturing the changing tones in Segal’s story as the plainer Citizen’s Assembly sections evolve into the colourful convention of creatures and eventually to the destruction of the known world represented in darker tones with orange light, smoke effects and a calming white and purple tone at the conclusion. That visually the show evolves consistently and finds a storytelling advantage in its new digital setting is one of ASSEMBLY‘s most enjoyable aspects, leaving the audience to wonder if it could have been staged as well in person.

The Company

ASSEMBLY has a large company playing the ten original members of the Citizen Assembly and the mysterious convener as well as doubling later as representatives of the natural world and wider solar system. Each commits to their performances despite having rehearsed online and having to give their first live show via YouTube. Actors Angie Lieu, Brian McGinnis, David Cunningham, Jenneba Sie-Jalloh, Josiah Phoenix, Karen Walkden, Martin Fisher, Michael Turney, Patrick Burrows, Paul Ringo, Pen Riley, Rita Barry, Sadhbha Odufuwa-Bolger, Stephen Rooney, Ubah Egal, Victoria Valcheva and Youyangg Song are particularly effective in the early scenes where they fail to design a consistent or especially radical future, capturing the difficulty of large meetings with a couple of louder voices driving the debate as conversations become increasingly fractious.

It is an area ripe for expansion where greater characterisation is possible as individuals represent their own specific small-scale interests or fail to balance the needs of an international community with their inability to conceive a vision of the future divorced from their fear of change. Each of the elements and creatures has a distinct personality from the furious glacier whose melting form creates conflict with the heatwave to the frustrated little mice whose size is ignored by the water-preserving river and wider group who want to abolish the litter that keeps them alive. It’s a strong ensemble who embrace their roles and relish their performance time.

With a couple of brief technical disruptions during the premiere, this first production from the Donmar Local company shows a lot of promise, combining an enthusiastic group of performers with a creative team eager to explore technical boundaries in the presentation of meaningful stories.

ASSEMBLY premiered on the Donmar Warehouse YouTube Channel on 20 March. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook Cultural Capital Theatre Blog.

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