Prism – King’s Theatre

Written & Directed by Terry Johnson

Based on the life of Jack Cardiff

Entire artistry in its own right, the conduction of light by Jack Cardiff would define a method of cinematography which pervades the artform to this day. The Red ShoesThe African Queen and The Black Rose, there is scarcely a shred of celluloid which at one point hasn’t had some kind of inspiration from this man. Terry Johnson’s Prism allows the star of stage and screen Robert Lindsay to capture a man who would dedicate his career to capturing the right angle of Hollywood’s finest, and how in his later life Alzheimer’s would cast his recollection further and further back into these sepia-tinted days of showbiz.

Shackling ourselves to a chain of memories born of anxieties, love, regret and experience, we place a tremendous deal of what defines the ‘self’ into the composite of how we evaluate our lives. What then, when the cruellest form of affliction, dementia, early on-set or age-related, loosens these tethers and slowly ebbs away our most recent memories, placing us firmly in a comforting, if distant past? This is Johnson’s intention with Prism, to offer a glimpse into the closing scenes of Cardiff’s life, just before the credits begin to roll. 

In essence, a biographical (if artistic) production places itself into the hands of its principal performer. In Robert Lindsay, there is not a qualm to locate. His charm is silky, yes, but his emotional control over the condition is as approachable as it is painful in depiction. Ironically, though the metaphor wouldn’t be lost on Cardiff – there is a spectrum of emotion, a Prism if you will allow. In his closing moments, the tiniest nuance of detail leads to a crushing realisation – something which, for Cardiff, is worse than losing his memory, and once we realise that Lindsay has been laying the groundwork for this through the second half, it’s aching to comprehend.

Unafraid of the industries nature, Terry Johnston’s writing refrains from treating Cardiff as an untouchable treasure, indeed taking liberties which would perhaps be appropriate for the role. Jokes of the infamous casting couch, while certainly a distasteful reference, would tragically be common practice. The humour, well-written, also slips in a few gags which roll eyes for their age, but again, this would be correct for Cardiff’s character. Where Johnston’s writing balances this humour, and it takes a while to do so, is in the demonstration of dementia’s influence beyond the individual sufferer. Something Johnston takes partial credit for, but Fitzgerald rightfully claims a deal more.

Nicola or Katie (Katharine Hepburn) as Cardiff fails to remember which, at first is an identifiable role, a wife standing beside her partner, who openly displays the frustrations and loneliness of dealing with a loved one suffering from the condition. The thought of being a blank face, to someone you have shared a life with, is disheartening to even imagine, yet somehow Fitzgerald communicates a tremendous deal while saying little. Taking on the role of her predecessor, the apparent love of Cardiff’s life, is a metamorphosis, capturing Hepburn’s diction, as well as her timeless class.

Echoes of the past dance in the background, references of the days Cardiff regresses towards as the condition worsens. Prism is arguably for the cinephiles more so than the theatrical crowd, and while it is indeed possible for fans of one to respect the other, there is such depth in the knowledge of filmmaking – from the jabs at aspect ratio, to references of actors inability or habits, the production has a definitive screen quality to its DNA.

In an expedition of Cardiff’s history, the location of Prism takes unique transitions to expand the horizons beyond simplistic storytelling. In the closing of act one, Tim Shortall’s design feels excessive, but for the second its purpose is evident. With cinema at its heart, Ian William Galloway’s video design is where the set excels. Six portraits of cinema’s defining performers (minus Bette Davis…) enhance the mise en scène with small quirks, movements and tricks. If possible, tear your eyes away from Lindsay’s performance, and you may spot a theatrical ‘Easter egg’ of cinematic inspiration.

While Lindsay beams out in technicolour, Victoria Blunt and Oliver Hembrough find themselves squarely in the tones of Kinemacolor, far from feeble, but without the range Lindsay and Fitzgerald offer. Principally this lies within the narrative, Johnson’s writing paints Blunts character on the edges of sitcom territory, with a shoehorning of drama in the second act for us to feel sympathy, trouble being it loses out to our emotional investment in Lindsay. Blunt’s brief spell as Monroe, while a caricature, is dripping with delivery, decadent and quite stirring in all the right ways.

Filmstrip offers a glimpse of immortality for the chosen few, though it will never stand the test of our true marker – time. Nailing a performance which one will seek to capture for an age, Lindsay pays Cardiff in kind, reminding us of his immeasurable talents, eventually succumbing to a callous condition. As these timeless classics of film fade ever more into obscurity, they are a reminder that all good things must end; paintings will tarnish, whiskey dries and the light which Cardiff so exquisitely framed fades. Prism offers a range of artistic celebration, and this is a love letter from the stage to the big screen.

Runs at The King’s Theatre until Saturday November 2nd. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/prism

Photo Credit – Manuel Harlan Video Credit – Capital Theatres

Barber Shop Chronicles – The Royal Lyceum

Writer: Inua Ellams

Director: Bijan Sheibani

We incessantly talk to three people; the barman, perhaps a priest, but always your barber. From the outset, there’s catalytic energy bouncing around, flinging us from Africa to the barbers of Catford, Lewisham or Brixton in a showcase of sensational world-building. Poetic in construct, Inua Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles is the height of sublime subtlety, relying on bold, poignant honesty, rather than false-bound spectacle or hollow pathos.

Storytelling through a diverse culture, these barbers are the councillors for generations, providing more than styles and smiles. A chronicle of various encounters, there’s a connection between these men – stretching beyond familial. Yes, cousins may depart, brothers return, but across the globe, they share the same stories; life, death, women, racism and grow from one another, learn from their elders in a way we recognise, but may not have experienced.

Respect for elders laces throughout, with the fleeting moments of aggression resulting from this disrespect or personal grief. This leads to bickers, altercations and a resulting strain between Samuel (Mohammed Mansaray) and Emmanuel (Anthony Ofoegbu), one of three men to originally open the South London barbers. Ofoegbu has a subdued role, impacting with his infectious smiles, language and relationship with the others. With his father in prison, Samuel takes on the family role, but with resentment towards Emmanuel, blaming his cowardice. It’s a change, as culture alters for black men, where some fathers will no longer talk with their fists, but father-figures, and indeed mothers, will listen.

Ramshackle, yet alluring, Rae Smith’s decision to incorporate signs we see in our peripherals, but never pay much attention too, framing them around the set creates a story-narrative to a culture many Lyceum watchers will be unfamiliar with. An intense centrepiece, a globe, sculpted from trash metals, hangs above as we transition from the UK and back. Such stagecraft is known, that as the choreography begins, as the set shifts, you’re left utterly mesmerised, with a determinable instinct to soak it all in.

Despite the pretence, this is anything but a simple piece on masculinity, or indeed it’s toxic form. This is a delicate, dissection of masculinity, but not the focus. The expectations, from cultural to age-related, even to the altering idolisation of Mugabe, Malcolm or Luthor, touching on the masculine ‘norms’ of black youths growing up in South London. Seldom does a production capture it’s culture this firmly yet openly reveals itself – welcoming anyone. There is little anger, but where it flares, like Tom Moutchi’s volleys of vindication, it doesn’t tarnish the production, merely re-affirming its attitude towards life.

Upon entering the theatre, one has expectations to sit, enjoy, perhaps experience an eye-opening commentary, or even a hint of social satire which they will quickly forget. Barber Shop Chronicles obliges all of this and plenty of rhythm. A lyrical weave allows these men to blend cultural dance with modern movement, struck to the beats of Pidgin, Chadic and a variety of dialects. Entirely, the cast is fluid, emitting a slickness as they sway, with Demmy Ladipo’s comedic flailing and Elmi Rashid Elmi’s tight pops stand out.

This is accessible theatre, Ellams’ writing may focus on the culture of black men, particularly those councillors offering a close shave, but in truth, it couldn’t care less who you are. It wants to speak to you, to encourage movement and song with a magnificent sound score. It desires us to open dialogue with one another. Barber Shop Chronicles injects the Autumn streets of Edinburgh with a much needed thrust of blood, bold passion and representation.

Barber Shop Chronicles runs at The Lyceum Theatre until November 9th: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/barber-shop-chronicles

Photo Credit – Marc Brenner

The Monstrous Heart – Traverse Theatre

Written by Oliver Emanuel

Directed by Gareth Nicholls

Choking, claustrophobic, Mag’s cabin exists in an idyllic retreat many would desire, but others would suffocate within its freedom. Where the subject of nature vs. nurture arises, the concept of a monstrous mother is by no means recent. Oliver Emanuel’s The Monstrous Heart entwines nature so integrally with the narrative, as a force offering redemption for one, yet suffocation for another, that the brutal interruption of Mag’s daughter Beth only spells chaos.

A definitive stick of dynamite, Christine Entwisle spends a decent portion in, somewhat, of a controlled state, ready to blow. Cowed and beleaguered, despite her rejection of daughter Beth, we sympathise to an extent. Far from simpering, there’s a hint of a stoic woman who has perhaps been lost, or as it would seem, is merely hibernating…

Without an ounce of shame, Charlene Boyd’s self-destructive Beth is just as enrapturing to watch, as she is repulsive in manner. Gareth Nicholl’s direction, evidently liberating, pits Charlene Boyd against Entwisle in a compelling fashion. Boyd’s brazenness unhinged but articulate is troubling – but in actuality, she’s cobbled her pieces back together to seek answers, or perhaps vengeance. Thus far, we stick to the plains of reality – these are the squabbles which place themselves firmly in verism. That is of course until a certain bronze-coloured beverage knocks Mag’s off her wagon – here, straying into overwrought abstract, nature has a force to awaken within this mother.

We have, however, failed to address the Elephant Bear in the room. Lifesize, designed to perfection by Cécile Trémolières, it’s presence is of debate among the characters, but its symbolism goes far beyond mere spectacle. Voice-over work in the theatre is rarely a discussion, but Tanya Moodie’s voiceover for the bear, nature, however you wish to interpret, is driven with guttural passion.

With the pace of an extraordinarily slow badger watch, The Monstrous Heart has the grim appeal of a car crash, but in a hyper-slow motion. Refusing to look away, knowing that there is some form of carnage awaiting, but you know that you should. As layer upon layer is cut away, peeling itself to reveal a gruesome secret, Emanuel’s writing steadily evolves but takes too long to get there, dragging out this family-reunion in the wrong places, burning the candle a too vigorously, then snuffing out the progression it illuminates.

What little lighting is utilised, is effective as a conveyer of emotional turmoil, or the bleakness of the mountain’s chill. Gradually dipping, a storm hailing beyond the door, sunlight fading out from the cabin. So subtle, yet effective, a shiver creeps up, taking us by surprise. At its most effective, as the door holds open, a thin blanket of snow covers the floor. The fading light all but gone, briefly illumined by the dying glow, it’s a final image which sums up the production in a chilling way.

Mother knows best, or at least, they often think they do. Emanuel’s production captures the ferocity of a mother-daughter relationship, dialling the emotional instability to the maximum. An argument centres on whether evil is born, or manifested, stems back to, well, as soon as we were able to articulate the question. As the piece’s referential homage to Shelley’s Frankenstein asks: are monsters born, made or is the creator, the parent, the true monster? The Monstrous Heart asks tough questions, tackles a monstrous mother, her twisted daughter, and cackles in the face of beauty.

Runs at The Traverse Theatre until November 2nd. Tickets available from: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/the-monstrous-heart

Photo credit – Mihaela Bodlovic