It is true that we can get ourselves into a bind by deceiving ourselves and others at one time or another. We are able to carefully build walls of lies and sometimes treachery and become imprisoned in our own little world of fraud usually for the pursuit of power or status. Do those who weave threads of deceit get their comeuppance? Red Stitch Theatre’s first punchy production for 2015 grapples with these ideas, humankind’s ability to forgo decency and morality and head straight for the mark of wealth and power at all costs.
This new play (first staged at London’s Royal Court in 2013) by Dennis Kelly, writer of the plays Orphans and Love and Money and West-End hit Matilda the Musical, plus television series Utopia, is well directed by Mark Wilson as he juggles the many styles of theatre that Kelly employs and demands. There is the obvious Brechtian influence with the narrators, the stark white light, and the clear sign posting of the plot. There are echoes of pure Greek tragedy, but predominately there is the Medieval morality play. We very easily find ourselves in the shoes of the Gorge; hating him, laughing with him and even feeling a little sorry for him. Richard Cawthorne never overcooks the main character of Gorge and Cawthorne’s natural way and charm on stage delivers a character who possesses traits we can all see in ourselves.
The play tells the tale of Gorge Mastromas who, as tender young adult, is encouraged to make a Faustian pact. From then on, it is no turning back. Gorge succeeds in getting what he wants without worrying about whether his actions are ‘cowardly or good’. He becomes the picture of a man who is a great success. But what happens next? We’ve seen this narrative many times before but it’s the intriguing take on it that makes this production burn with ideas and hum along with amusing scenes and well crafted characterisations from the ensemble. Does cheating bring benefits? How do we resist the temptation to lie for financial or some other gain?
The first third of the play consists of the actors forming a quintet of narrators. Each takes their turn taking us through Gorge’s early years. All five actors, Jordan Fraser-Trumble, Richard Cawthorne, Olga Makeeva, Dion Mills and Elizabeth Nabben hold the audience with witty lines and appropriate facial expressions for quite a long time in this formation. After this, we are taken into the real time action of Gorge’s life, his rise and rise at all costs. Nabben is wonderful as Louisa, the woman Gorge stops at nothing to have. It is great to see Nabben’s stage work again after her success playing Thérèse Raquin in the eponymous production last year at Theatre Works. Mills plays the Gorge’s brutal brother Gel and his narrator has a creepy sting in his tail. Fraser-Tumble is the light in the darkness of the play, explaining things with ease as a good Greek chorus member should. Makeeva’s character and narration is brusque but stylish, and brings the required undercurrent of malevolence to the play.
The video design is an effective feature of the production. Amongst other things, it serves as an extra narrator, a purveyor from another realm. The random pictures of animals and landscapes could trigger thoughts in the mind of the audience along the lines of beauty juxtaposed with ugliness, goodness and evil. At times, the video created a basic television test pattern, perhaps indicating a recording of a life lived and a life perhaps to be judged by us sitting there in the jury box? However, is it a case of he without sin may cast the first stone?