One of the many pleasures on my recent trip to London was seeing some exciting theatre (and to see it spelled correctly!) First up was John, from DV8 Physical Theatre at the Lyttleton. Not a play in the traditional sense, director Lloyd Newson based John on transcripts of interviews with men involved in various addictions: drugs, alcohol, sex, and anger. The play jumps from scene to vivid scene, while the actors twitch and writhe their "confessions" on a revolving stage that gives the audience the sense of peering into a neatly-quartered doll's house, serving at times as an apartment, a prison and a gay bathhouse. With the flat, seemingly matter-of-fact recitation by the main character in contrast to his turbulent experiences, the piece occasionally seemed slow, but the underlying performances were ultimately mesmerizing.
East Is East by Ayub Khan Din at the Trafalgar Studios was a bit of a surprise. I went to see it for Jane Horrocks, the ever-delightful Bubble from one of my favourite shows of all time, Absolutely Fabulous. The poster shows a reflective, mixed-race cast looking like an Anglo-Indian Partridge Family. Not so. As funny as this play at times was, the underlying themes of misogyny and racism made for an uneasy mix that served it well. Horrocks was terrific, as was the rest of the cast. Bubble's at times barely-decipherable Lancashire accent was not at all out of place in this taut drama of a woman torn between her abusive husband and her children.
The final work, Stephen MacDonald's Not About Heroes, was based on the real-life meeting of two of my favourite literary figures, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Played out as a two-hander in a tiny theatre in the back of the Trafalgar, you were never more than a few metres from the action, listening in on the heated discussions and arguments of two of the greatest anti-war writers of all time. As fate would have it, Owen defied Sassoon's heartfelt advice not to return to the front, where he died in the final days of WWI. Unforgettable and utterly moving.