Saturday, 16 July 2016

Review: No Quarter – Network Theatre

Hidden behind a locked gate in what seems to be the loading bay area for Waterloo station, this unusual and somewhat dingy approach to Network Theatre (perhaps inadvertently) captures an essence of what is to come before you’ve even entered the venue.

Within the theatre, the majority of the seating occupies a tiered structure facing the performance space, with just a couple of rows set up behind, at stage level. In the space sits a rugged old sofa, a piano and a chest, but what really dominates the view is the array of buckets that hang at varying heights and the sheet music that covers the floor like carpet.

Already, there is a sense of the surreal; at least one of the buckets is unmistakably acknowledged in dialogue as a bucket to catch drips from the leaky ceiling, but as the play progresses they seem more and more a figment of the imagination, transposing from one object to another, most bizarrely as some kind of punchbowl.

No Quarter is framed by two scenes between two brothers. Two very different brothers. Oliver is a politician who prides himself on his practicality and grip on the real world, whereas Robin is a music school drop-out who has never really known a reality outside of his mother’s isolated countryside home, which as it turns out, is a much more warped and twisted reality than he ever could have realised.

Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith
After a tense argument about their mother, Lily, Oliver leaves the house as angry as he had arrived. It is then that we are introduced to Lily herself, who embodies the very notion of ‘free spirit’, though she is suffering with her ageing body and mind. It is because of her frequent lapses of dementia that she asks Robin to help take her own life.

Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith
Following Lily’s death, the middle (and majority) of the play takes place on the evening after the funeral, which also happens to be Robin’s birthday. As Robin spirals further and further away from reality, due to grief, helplessness and a great deal of substance abuse, we are periodically introduced to five further characters, who each in turn reveal another depth to Robin’s unique yet troubled sense of self. Whilst Robin’s school friends and the stranger he has picked up for the night celebrate his odd behaviour as if he is some kind of poetically fragmented figure, it is only his cousin, Esme, who recognises the real danger of his internal struggle.
Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith
Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith
Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith

The language with which Polly Stenham composes these scenes is equally poetic, and Robin’s own manner of speech seems to be projected across all characters, as if the house holds some kind of deep enchantment that possesses all that enter.

“You were brought up on mythology. That’s why you’re all stuck, all angry, a prince in the wrong story.”

There is no denying that Robin is supposed to earn our empathy, both through his pain and through his compassion for those around him and the simple things in life. However, his idealistic views are too far from reality, and with the play not concluding with any kind of answer or even hint as to what the solution may be, we are left feeling a little lost and confused by what exactly Stenham is trying to achieve.

Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith
No Quarter is an intense and intriguing exploration of the very notion of reality, that simultaneously attempts to highlight some issues of modern life. And although the lengthy middle scenes are supported by some brilliant moments and consistently strong performances from all, their purpose remains a little unclear, particularly in comparison to the opening and closing passages between Robin, Lily and Oliver.

Huge thanks must go to Theatre Bloggers for enabling me to experience this truly absorbing production and for making this review possible. 

*I was gifted my ticket in exchange for a review, but all opinions are my own.


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