Images by Cara Douglas-Jones
Review One by Faith Oyegun
Upon entering the dimly lit and intimate studio theatre, in my attempt to find a seat before the production began, I took care not to trample over two females lying blithely yet curiously on the ground. Once seated, I soon realised that the figures were in fact the two female protagonists, and what I had used for the pathway to my seat was in fact the performance space in which they were laid. What were they doing on the ground? Their poses were somewhat unnatural, and I begin to question whether they were conscious or unconscious; dead or alive?
It turns out in fact that inquisitiveness itself is a predominant element of the play, set in the 1940s and based on Ovid’s Greek legend of the rape and maiming of Philomele (played by an engaging and visually stunning Amelia O’Shea). Questions concerning gender, war, desire, rape, betrayal and revenge are raised, and the play successfully depicts the damage that inevitably ensues with the silencing of these very same enquiries.
After her marriage to Tereus, Procne is moved to Thrace. Being Athenian, she is accustomed to the philosopher’s habit of asking questions, juxtaposed strongly by her silent and ritualistic maidens. Lonely, she sends her husband to collect her much loved sister Philomele for company, where on the return journey Tereus’s lust switches to violence, resulting in her sister’s rape and silencing by a harrowing and convincingly staged cutting of her tongue.
The filmed depiction of the rape provides an innovative alternative to what would have been difficult to stage. At some points this was confusing so that I was unsure as to what the purpose of its effect was. For example, traditionally the play includes a carnival scene where Philomele enacts a mime with dolls in order to reveal what had happened to her sister, but in this version the rape scene was replayed on screen whilst her sister watches. Costume choices were also sometimes strange, with some male characters wearing ill fitting trousers which were clearly too small, and others wearing trousers which were too big.
Attention must be paid to the musical score which complements the acting, ensuring that the play never seems static. Mention must go to Echo (Lara Money) and the Captain (Jack Hughes) for their honest and compelling performances. Tereus was unfortunately a bit eccentric, bordering on pantomime villain; his ‘wandering eyes’ were almost comical. Perhaps as a rapist, he needed a bit more subtlety throughout in order to have more impact when he his committed truly villainous acts. That said he had a great command of voice (most of the audience jumped when he shouted), although he could have done with more variation in pitch. Niobe got a lot of laughs, and Procne played an angry, disgusted and betrayed wife with conviction. Sophie Watson and Charlotte Wright creatively revive an important tale which ultimately highlights society’s flaws with resonance, urging us to question them relentlessly.
Review Two by Cesar Teixeira
Week four of the New Theatre’s spring season brings with it what can only be described as a surprising take on the Greek tragedy, not only in text, where Timberlake Wertenbaker’s is refreshingly different from what I traditionally associate with the genre, but also in the choice to set the action in 1940’s Britain.
The play, based on the ancient myth, follows Procne (Eleanor Charleston) as she marries Tereus (Tim Watkins), king of Thrace, as is taken to live with him away from her family. Her loneliness leads her to ask him to fetch her sister, Philomele (Amelia O’Shea), so that she might have some company. Accompanied by her servant Niobe (Emma Rutherford) and Tereus, they journey across the sea. During this journey Philomele is raped by her brother in law and violently silenced. The action is commented on and supported by the effectively directed and well cast chorus consisting of Jack Hughes, Adam Wells, Tom Burke, Harriet Ryley, Lara Money and Stephanie Markham, whose presence is, in the most part, perfectly judged and executed.
Charlotte Wright’s freshman attempt at directing is to be applauded. The stiff upper lipped English portrayals are inspired. In particular Emma Rutherford, despite her less than palatable opinions on how life after misfortune carries on, manages to blend bitter resignation with a pitiable, intensely human character. Watkins is genuinely villainous, and has the elusive quality in this role of commanding a stage with the ease and grace appropriate to his role as a king. Eleanor and Amelia convincingly bring to the stage a sisterly relationship and are both harrowing and heart wrenching in the latter half of the play, shocking the audience with their brutal revenge.
Congratulations are due to the ambitious technical team who have helped realise this play. The lighting is subtle and despite some imperfections, very effective in conveying the tension and brutality of the action it illuminates. The video projections are used to great effect, giving the audience several points of focus; although perhaps, this reviewer feels, that a bit more homogeneity in the styles of film used would have been ideal. The setting in the round whilst entertaining and impressive leaves me wondering why. Despite understanding that the wish was to bring the audience closer to the action and, as a result, allow more intimacy, I cannot help but wonder if the production gains anything from this choice. Personally I congratulate Charlotte for her mature and a well thought out attempt at what can be a very difficult stage design, despite some minor issues with blocking which, at times, prevented actors from being seen.
All in all, The Love of the Nightingale is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the most unexpected play my time at the New Theatre has given me. My initial misgivings at the genre where entirely demolished and I left feeling emotionally bereft, and contemplating the power of words, how, as the posters say: Careless talk costs lives.
But then again, this is merely the opinion of this reviewer….