Monday, 26 September 2016

Review: Gallows Rope – Steiner Theatre

After a short run at the Bread and Roses Theatre earlier this month, Mamet Leigh’s play, which looks at solitude and society in 21st century London, took on another three performances at the Steiner Theatre this weekend.

This 60-minute play takes place inside Emile’s home, a small London flat that he seemingly never leaves. Although it is clear that Emile does not like other people or the commotion of the city in which he resides, the reasons behind Emile’s self-imposed solitude are never explained. Both the script and Nicolas Pimparé’s stiff portrayal fail to illustrate whether his social struggles and miserable demeanour are due to more serious problems, such as mental illness or learning disability. This results in a number of uncomfortable moments and lines that balance dangerously on the edge of offence.

The conflict of the plot arrives imminently, as Emile is confronted with a new flatmate, a notion by which he is repulsed even before he meets the brash and exuberant Helena (Irene Salata Georgiou). After minutes of clunky and clichéd dialogue, which firmly sets the pace for the rest of the script, the dynamic of their conversation switches from mutual frustration to a baffling attraction, finishing in a disturbing string of sentences during which Helena asks Emile to rape her.

Just as quickly and unpredictably as their attraction was established, Emile is transformed into a completely different individual, one who skips and giggles his way around the stage. But this uncharacteristically chirpy Emile does not last long as, in a very soap-like fashion, Helena’s estranged husband, Hamish (Adam Drew), arrives at the flat. After his initial (and very disconcerting) reaction of intense arousal, Emile settles back into his melodramatically disagreeable self.

Another downfall of this play is the extent to which emotions, themes and ideas are explicitly told rather than shown. Instead of leaking subtle displays of Hamish’s controlling manner into the script, Mamet has him ordering Helena and Emile around the space, like some bizarre adult game of Simon Says.

While the tone of the play thus far has mostly adhered to (a very dramatic) realism, Mamet’s script seems to cross into the realms of the supernatural, as Hamish reveals he was killed by Helena in the night, crossing the stage with a comedy-esque knife taped to his back and telling Emile that being dead is “shit, mate”.

To make matters even more confusing, Mrs Rysover (Blazena Kovalikova), who has been unexplainably present on stage for the majority of these bizarre events, doesn’t seem at all concerned when Emile announces that he is going to hang himself, and is again unperturbed when after all of his preparation he decides to save his death until later. And on this note, the play ends with the pair in fits of laughter at the image of Emile’s head stuck up her top.

What should have been a serious and thought-provoking exploration of loneliness and modern relationships, instead collapses into a heap of overly dramatic and forced acting, offensive and disturbing phrases and unintentionally laughable characters and situations. The premise and loose plot of this play is not unsalvageable, but the script and characters in their current state require a great deal of development and revision.

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

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