Writer: Nicolas Billon
Director: Geoffrey Brumlik
Reviewer: Kris Hallett
The Directors’ Cuts season presented each May by Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, is a terrific way for audiences to catch up on and discover the world of new writing. Iceland, a terrific piece by Canadian Nicolas Billon, given its UK première here by director and fellow countryman Geoffrey Brumlik, is a great discovery. Iceland is a tight, taut thriller that builds to a devastating crescendo. Given masterful performances by its three-strong cast and with a production that is in tune with its rhythm and colour, it emerges as one of the best pieces of theatre to hit the region this year.
Three interceding monologues connect three disparate characters in a piece that takes down ruthless capitalism and those who worship at its altar. Kassandra (Verity Blyth) possessor of an impressive Estonian accent and figure hugging red dress is paying for her History Masters and, her twin brothers gambling debts with a little escorting on the side. Halim, given a swaggeringly cheeky performance by Bradley Banton, speaking the unspeakable but always with a glint in his eye so you can’t help but like him is a second generation Libyan who thinks nothing of buying out an apartment, evicting its tenant and with a few minor adjustments, making £60k for a months work. Sarah Livingstone plays the ousted tenant, Anna, with indignant fury, tweeting her woes from a coffee shop, dropping casual racism when she reacts with shock that a black estate agent is showing her round her old apartment, and prone to eating soap when she blasphemes.
It’s these idiosyncrasies and human weaknesses that keep us hooked. Billon has created characters that come alive off the page. Impressively after each monologue, you feel he won’t be able to top what has come before and yet each time he does. They are characters that catch your imagination; you come to care in a way for each of them. Blyth is all Eastern European goodness; a sweet face, innocence touched with knowing, a girl making the most of what she has but always aware of the 2point4 life she is trying to build towards. Banton makes bastardy appealing, all flash suit, big watch and cash by the fifty. He is a character lost to money, defined by nothing but what his cash can make others do. Livingstone’s Anna is the greatest victim and yet rather than write her as an angel, Billon makes her difficult to like. Who are we supposed to root for? The suits on the left or the Stokes Croft hipsters on the right?
Played out on designer Anisha Fields stylish sleek black platforms, with scene headers projected onto the back wall, it is a constantly confident production that holds its audience in its hands like putty. Its transposition from Canada to Bristol doesn’t particularly add more flavour to the writing and causes some confusion with its geography (talk of Buffalo and Colorado seems a long way from the River Avon) but all in all it’s a thrilling night of theatre, showcasing a writer who writes dialogue that stands toe to toe with the best and graced with excellent performances. A must.
Runs until 13 May 2017 | Image: Contributed