Chummy – White Bear Theatre, London

Writer: John Foster
Director: Alice Kornitzer
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Strict genre definitions are handy shorthands for things like Netflix and DJ sets. In a live theatre setting, however, it’s fantastic to have the freedom to bend, break, (re)define and even create a genre as an effort in progressive imagination.

John Foster sets out to bring the thrill of film noir to the stage, a crossover that has bundles of tense, crunchy potential. Here, the cast and crew admirably reach but don’t quite grasp it.

Jackie Straker is an ex-cop with a drinking problem and PTSD who receives regular calls from “Chummy”, a sinister individual who engages her (somewhat professionally) to be therapist and rat-catcher all in one. Chummy needs to kill, but recognises he (or she) needs to be stopped before hurting people.

Based on a reasonably Quotidien set-up, the pressure’s on the scripting and performance to carry this through. Foster seeks to indulge his more elaborate side, running a stream of poetic imagery and language through. Some of the imagery is excellent and greatly adds to the feeling and atmosphere aimed at – the chill and thrill of the noir. However, it becomes very difficult to sustain interest and attention through the flights of language between these highlights – there’s a point where one realises there’s been a huge amount said and not a lot discussed.

The aim, possibly, is to mimic a pulsating stream of consciousness, the mental state of a serial killer with a bloodlust and a conscience – fascinating endeavour indeed. However, there’s generally a reason why streams of consciousness need to be edited for public consumption and it’s revealed strongly here. A little cut here and there, and more judicious use of the audience’s attention to tighten this up would propel this lengthy (about two hours) thought process into a snappy, tense and punchy exploration.

Our guides through this mental state are Calum Speed as the creepy, manic, wheedling and charismatic Chummy, and Megan Pemberton as Miss Straker, volatile and damaged. Jessica Tomlinson plays two murder victims (who, it is acknowledged, look extremely similar) with a nice mix of personalities. Set within a dark and stark PI dive office designed by Michael Leopold and lit really well by Owen Pritchard Smith, it’s claustrophobic as it should be.

Noir is a classic film genre for a reason, the close-ups and the haze is perfect for the medium. Transporting it to a live setting is doable of course, and the ambition to push the boundaries should be applauded. Here, it’s slightly overwrought, unfortunately.

Runs until 10 June 2017 | Image: Contributed

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Charismatic and inventive

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