Old railway vaults have become favoured locations for performance spaces in London in the last few years. They have great atmosphere, and suggest other-worldliness and the possibility of deep psychological experimentation, but the Old Vic Tunnels’ version is certainly the dampest and smelliest I have yet visited. Luckily the fragrant whiff of creative endeavour in this programme is strong enough to take the mind off the venue’s pungency.
The new theatre company, Viscera, present five short plays inspired by London. This connection to the capital is tenuous in two of the plays, and in one, ‘Wedding This, Wedding That’, spurious. The best play, ‘Two’s Company’ by Lola Stephenson brilliantly captures many people’s experience of living in London in the character of one man played with subtle, agonised skill by Paul Westwood. He monologues to the audience in an increasingly manic piece which reveals under his professed enthusiasm for all the joys of the city, his terrible loneliness and dislocation. The horrors of flat-sharing, the mediocre wage-slave job, the long journey home to an affordable area: it’s all there, and rendered with witty black humour. The reveal at the end isn’t successful, but it’s otherwise excellent.
‘Oranges on the Brighton Line’ by Roxy Dunn gives us an estranged couple meeting on a railway platform. He is fortyish, she is twenty-one, they’ve had an affair but it’s over, and he is back with his wife. Their analysis of what went wrong is very absorbing material and the raw emotion expressed by the actors, particularly Alys Metcalf as Cleo, is deeply moving. Certain surreal elements are unnecessarily puzzling (foxes on the line?) but this is writing full of rich potential.
‘My City’ by Rachel De-Lahay is a series of vignettes of immigrants to London, before and after their arrivals in the city. The struggles to escape dysfunctional homelands and come to the imagined paradise of London are told in a fresh, informative way. The piece has an air of authenticity, and is acted with convincing naturalness throughout. Of all the plays tonight, it feels incomplete, and could definitely be expanded.
‘What People Do’ by Molly Naylor is about two young women becoming stuck in a bathroom. Strangers, in a series of short jump-cut scenes, they gradually become closer, and somehow wiser. Full of humour and poignancy, the play enables Catrin Aaron and Emily Aston to give strong performances in a lightly-Beckettian meditation on the impossibility of escape from real life. And the dance routine is a joy.
In ‘Wedding This, Wedding That’ Laura Elsworthy gives an accomplished performance as a Northern girl who misses her father, but the monologue is derivative, and it’s hard to see how this play meshes with the rest.
As a showcase of emerging talent, ‘Let’s Get Visceral’ is a very successful event and Alys Metcalf and Roxy Dunn, the company’s founders are to be applauded. If they continue to find writers, directors and performers of this standard, there will be plenty to chew on from Viscera.