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London – Royal Exchange Studio, Manchester

Writer: Simon Stephens

Director: George Perrin

Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin

[Rating: 3]

Simon Stephens is fast becoming one of our most popular playwrights and most successful exports from Stockport, Manchester. In 2012 alone he has had four of his plays premiered at the National, Lyric Hammersmith, Traverse and Young Vic. London is billed as a UK premiere and yet really it is the moulding together of two separate pieces, T5 and Seawall, into a new production by Paines Plough.

Both T5 and Seawall are loosely linked in style, as both are monologic, and by the city of London. In T5 the central character is fleeing London while the lead in Seawall is returning; both characters are seemingly at crossroads in their life tackling family, love and ultimately loss.

T5 is an interesting voyeuristic production as the audience wear headphones which release the internal monologue of the Woman in T5 into our ears, while we watch her physical journey trapped within an anonymously beige hotel room. The delivery was a scattered stream of consciousness jumping forwards and backwards in time, place and thought but ultimately leading us on her tube journey to Heathrow as she escapes her life. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the hotel room suited the journey of Woman as she ultimately couldn’t progress any further than her own past where she had made a decision not to act as a teenager was violently attacked in front of her.

Abby Ford gave a strong performance of Woman relying upon physical storytelling within a limited space and without the connection of voice. The audience’s connection with T5 was very much one of isolation and voyeurism, which strongly contrasted with the stripped back, intimate, conversational style and tone of Alex’s monologue in Seawall. Cary Crankson did a brilliant job of working hard to engage us as an audience, there were several dead moments within the first five minutes where he obviously intended to raise a nod or giggle and yet received none because we were all seemingly alienated by the abrupt change in performance. When he did get us on his side, it was easier to join him on his own meandering monologue.

Seawall was a harder piece of work; pacey and yet wandering, taking us to the very edge of not caring, and yet it had a much greater pay-off. Alex gradually reveals the family tragedy which created a hole right through his stomach “I’m sure you all can see it” with such intimacy and tenderness, that you then understand why he enjoyed wandering through the mundane routine of his life, his relationship with his father-in-law, and their holidays. Cary Crankson’s gave one of the most gripping, tender, fierce and intense performances I have seen this year and this is definitely an actor to look out for; as tears streamed down his face and he declared seemingly unaware “I am a man who is physically incapable of crying”.

An odd production, not entirely smoothly meshing together two disparate pieces into one whole, but if you have a chance then go see it purely for the talent within.

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