The Key – White Bear Theatre, London

Reviewer: Mike Wells

Writer: Andras Forgach

Translators: Mateusz Mirek, Susan Brooke, Andras Forgach and Michal Nowak

Director: Mateusz Mirek

This is the UK premiere of a Hungarian tale, produced by Other Space Productions, a company dedicated to creating theatre in the UK with an Eastern European focus.

Written by Andras Forgach, the show centres on two brothers. Superficially disparate, they have far more in common than one might expect, and as the show progresses it becomes clear that the battles each of them are facing are the same, just on different plains.

In the first half we’re in a Hungarian coffee shop. Two chairs, a table, and a blackboard menu the only props in an otherwise sparce set. It’s 40 minutes of excellent duologue between the two brothers, the writing superb and the performances engaging. As the older brother, Michal Nowak is bold, brash, unstable, and emotional. He’s an excellent “rogue” – everything about him is unlikeable and yet you can’t help but like him. By contrast, the younger brother, played by Mateusz Mirek, appears vulnerable but is fierce and feisty. The pair of them together have a chemistry that’s entirely believable.

The power dynamic shifts between them constantly, with it rarely clear who holds the upper hand, but frankly it doesn’t matter. When the interval comes it feels too soon but leaves the audience keen to see what transpires in the second half.

For the second half the set becomes a bohemian apartment with vintage furniture and piles of books stacked haphazardly throughout. Thoughtfully done, it is precisely the kind of apartment one imagines the younger brother living in.

Unfortunately, the set is the best thing about the second half of the show, which descends into chaos with six additional cast members entering. As they struggle to work the space (of which there isn’t much with the additional bodies and furniture) they rely on clichés to stumble through. The writing too, begins to unravel with so many characters fighting for air, it soon suffocates.

The attempt to add a dramatic turn in the second half spoils what is an intricately written and performed piece, a terrific example of how to make theatre when space is at a premium. While the intention is good, the application leaves a lot to be desired, and the piece would be best served focussing on the relationship between the two brothers – had they never left the café this would have been a very different experience.

Runs until 5 November 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

A tale of two halves

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