A Lot Of It About
by Ned Hopkins
Directed by Alex Shepley
Lantern Theatre (10th-11th May 2013)
Hopkins tells me with twinkling blue eyes that the true story on which
A Lot Of It About is based was re-told here with the individual’s
blessing. With a few tweaks, the life events lend themselves well to a
play, which is an indicator of how shocking and unreal attitudes towards
homosexuality have been, and in a more pernicious way still are, in Britain.
A Lot Of It About is more than a good story - the plot is filled out
lavishly with Hopkins' sharp and sometimes subtle humour. Many of the
lines made me feel dirty-minded just smirking at them. In the scene where
Ben as an old man (played by Daniel Thackerey with a good physical impersonation
of a geriatric), reflects on his life’s experiences to a friend
he’s just met in the park. The audience was either too innocent
to pick up on the funny filth, or were too polite to show it.
- "Winter’s lovely…Snow all around your ankles…
- ‘Yeah, that’s all that’s around my ankles."
-"You’re good company when you shut up!’
-‘Yeah, you made sure of that…"
Has the theatre lost the prerogative to be understated our time? While
retrospectively processing a life riddled with discrimination and tribulation
(a heterosexual marriage and aversion therapy amongst them), quick quips
are not just a relief; they are a tool for making sense of life’s
cruel twists and turns.
And Organised Chaos get this. The cast’s
ability to carry off weighty scenarios respectfully and with maturity
belies their average age.
We open with an encounter in the park and the audience braces itself
to get into ‘follow closely’ mode but it turns out there’s
no need – the scenario is so fluid and the actors carry you wistfully
along it. The audience is continually shown different perspectives (even
the protagonist is played by a Younger and Older self, Thackeray and Michael
Whittaker), and as part of the cast on stage are often looking on at the
action, the audience is made to feel as if they’re joining them
in the viewing experience.
It’s important that this play gets seen because Organised
Chaos are able to do justice to a tale of prejudice and vilification
that needs to be acknowledged. Sanjay Sutar as psychiatrist puts across
how in 1960s Britain, being gay was cause for being paranoid. It provides
unique insight into awkward perilous situations which the majority of
society can't glimpse. There is an intimate portrait of a post-coital
scene followed by a cringeworthy break-up.
The internal monologues many of us may engage in sometimes are brought
to life on stage, as we see ourselves in Old Ben berating Young Ben after
the motorbike accident or the helplessness of naïve Young Anne (Kate
Mitchell) as she sits on the marital bed for the first time with her gay
The stereotyping of mental health professionals initially seemed in bad
taste: the same posh accents, the same thick glasses and lab coats. I
wondered how we can get rid of the homosexuality label without getting
rid of labeling the educated. However, the Psychiatrist in the play came
to represent the way Ben’s perspective of his social landscape:
a bland and uniform set who don’t indulge emotional nuances. Everyone’s
individuality appears to have been suppressed, it’s just that Ben’s
happened to include being gay. This production was a responsible and engaging
portrayal of a very sensitive issue which needs a good airing.
Ella Carmen Greenhill
Directed by Paul Anderton
Lantern Theatre (10th-11th May 2013)
I took a ride on a Ferris wheel the night I went to see Broken,
only for some reason I was looking over a strange couple arguing over
candy floss instead of a view…and then I wasn’t even sure
I was looking at a couple, but rather one young woman and her imaginary
date. Somehow we found ourselves not on a Ferris wheel, but in a park…
a car…a hospital bed.
The young woman was May played by Hannah Keeley, though I’m not
sure May herself knew who she was. There’s something ominous radiating
off the stage from the outset, even from Clara (Emma Cliff)'s approachability
in the park. Then Keely shifts like watercolours from The Little Mermaid
to Sylvia Plath in one scene. She turns from saccharine teenager to phobic
and anxious, and the audience finds itself trying to ‘diagnose’
the character. We flow from May to a washed out health professional Helen
(Una Love) who we can’t be sure is playing a deeply neurotic role,
or initially nervous about her stage debut. The questions build up:
Could the two women be the same person? What was the trauma? Are they
both experiencing reality and if not, which one of them is real?
Is it because we’re only metres away from the actors that they
seem so real and their words so deeply felt, or is it their proximity
that makes the actors all the more talented for covering up the cracks
between fiction and reality?
May’s delusions rub off on Helen as she starts to ruminate over
the medication she prescribes and her own authority. Our eyes shift from
one actress to the other and from one reality to the next. As the structures
that the characters put forth fall apart, the characters themselves become
all the more convincing.
The highpoint of versatility is when May’s character is transformed
by Keeley into a debilitated Patient, drugged up and inarticulate, giving
the appearance of being bound by ropes. Suddenly it dawns on the audience
that this play could be what’s going on inside the heads of those
who appear like this in shopping centres or institutions.
Monologue by monologue the story is drawing together and harsh reality
May, pointing at a lake: ‘It looks like a fish but it’s not
really is it?’
Clara: ‘…It’s just the case. He’s gone somewhere
else, somewhere better!,’
May: ‘Is he happy?’
‘Yeah, well happy’, Clara and the Clinician chime.
Broken is a must-see for anyone interested
in vulnerable members of society, or the ambiguity human experience.
Organised Chaos showcased two plays and while
one is about sexual orientation, and the other is about mental health,
what lies beneath these descriptions are the issues of neglect, abuse
and discrimination involved in experiences of them. Organised
Chaos managed to fluidly present both ‘minority groups’
from the inside looking out.
It was nice to see a tight, real and gritty but not self-conscious production.
The audience can take a load off and leave concerns about interpretation
and delivery up to the theatre company, which is what the theatre-going
experience should be about. The only blunder on Blundell Street is that
promotion was poor, which meant only a handful of theatre-goers got the
chance to experience Organised Chaos in Liverpool.