Saturday, 20 May 2017

Theatre review - I Know You by Sam Moore

Title: I Know You
Writer: Sam Moore
Directors: Rosie Richards, Georgia Reddington
Performed by: Magpie Productions
Seen at: the Burton Taylor Studio
Cast: Sammy Breen, Benjamin Ashton, Joshua Cathcart
Review: Two men stand on a street corner. One remarks that the other looks nice. The other replies that that’s not what he’s looking for. They return home and sleep together. Afterwards, they discuss other men and how similar they actually are and how well one knows the other.

This new writing by Sam Moore is described by directors Rosie Richards and Georgia Reddington as Pinter-esque, postmodern, and about “stigma, repression, mental health, and intimacy.”   We see characters  who have sex with and share lives with each other, but in other ways are detached. As an audience, we may watch characters having sex and panic attacks and we listen to them tell some of the most private stories about their lives, but we don’t ever learn their real names. 

There were apprehensions from the cast about taking on roles so different to what they are used to, with backgrounds in musical theatre, and a lack of experience playing older characters. However, Sammy Breen (Kid),  Benjamin Ashton (John), and Joshua Cathcart (Pumpkin) all embody the characters – the youngish sex worker who’s seen it all, the reserved, shy older man, the ex who comes back and tries to care as best as he can – really well. Learning about the characters is intriguing, and information is   A week of characterisation workshops, the freedom to adapt and develop the script on their own and with Moore, the ability to put in as much of their own personality as they wished, and the challenge to not put too much of themselves into the play, have worked well to bring these characters to life. And how they did that in the full performance. Especially Breen in the breakdown scenes, and in the scenes when both John and Pumpkin are absent. It’s also in the smaller parts, like the transition scenes, as the way the characters look at each other tells you a lot about the relationship between them at the time.  

The writing is clever. In the scenes I saw for the preview, the words "I know you" were said, questioned, and disbelieved many times, with different contexts and meanings each time, and tracks the ways the characters reflect on themselves and each other. But will we ever really know them? Non-verbal language and implications, even from the first few seconds of the play, are also vital to the communication of and between characters. There’s a fair bit of humour, sometimes dirty, sometimes based on jokes, sometimes physical, always feeling appropriate to the situation. It’s an open-ended play, which isn’t really to my taste, but it does as the directors intended in showing how life goes on no matter what, and also shows again, how little we might know someone.  The different experiences of depression were frank, nuanced, and hard hitting in places.

Cathcart calls the play “voyeuristic”; I would totally agree. It sometimes felt too  intimate to watch, especially when it was just me in the audience. This is not because of the sexual content, but because we see the characters in their everyday lives, including at their most vulnerable. The set represents both the street corner and the bedroom, emphasising both the public and private in the play, and transitions are very well executed. The lighting is mostly realistic, apart from some marine club lighting  in some parts, which worked well, especially when it just faded to the naturalistic white light at the end, as real life just carries on. The depiction of mental illness, both the characters experiencing it but even more so the reaction from outsiders, is realistic.  Overall, the cast and crew have developed a piece of theatre that feels incredibly close and genuine. 

Another version of this review might appear in the Cherwell,

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Thanks for taking time to read this!
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Nina xxx

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