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The week in theatre: Bubble; Adam Kay: This Is Going to Hurt; Nine Lives

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What a dispiriting remark that was of Oliver Dowden’s about the “crown jewels”. It implied that the arts should be preserved, unchanging, apart from the common herd; it suggested that what matters is costly fabric. Fund buildings rather than people. Build a millennium dome rather than set up millennial scholarships for gifted youth. Give to theatres before protecting the freelancer’s directors, actors, designers, choreographers – who make the stuff that gives theatres life.

James Graham has reliably shot at such assumptions. He is proving the most agile of playwrights: a spokesperson for the arts, but also a trenchant advocate for change, for funding being distributed outside London, for local theatres becoming “civic hubs”, and crucially for putting on new work, and abolishing “etiquette elitism”. He practices what he preaches: his own works respond quickly to what is going on. They are never precious.

The subject of his latest play looks obvious once announced, but it took Graham to pin it down as drama. Two women meet for a first date just before lockdown. Do they spend the weeks ahead together or apart? And will the spectators get to know what they decide?

Staged with a socially distanced audience as part of Nottingham Playhouse’s Unlocked festival, and watched by me via a live stream, Bubble whips through the giant contours of the past six months while deftly outlining the crucial markers in a new relationship. One watches Love Island, is directly involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, and is a gardening vegan; one is a schoolteacher. One is bare-armed, the other is muffled up. One is Pearl Mackie, the other is Jessica Raine. They are an absorbing duo.

Technical tangles meant I watched Adam Penford’s skillful, transparent staging on my mobile phone, with the characters the size of Playmobil figures. All the more to the production’s credit that its dynamism was always evident. Slipping between scenes from one side of the stage to the other, Mackie and Raine were the embodiment of uncertainty, fluid possibility. Both teetering on the edge of a precipice, yet beautifully at ease in their dancing bodies.

Another chink of light in theatrical darkness as Adam Kay, the former hospital doctor, brings his 2017 one-doc medic hit This Is Going to Hurt to the West End. Sipping from a specimen jar, standing next to a paracetamol tube the size of a small table, Kay reads from diaries he kept while on the wards. He worked in obstetrics and gynecology (“brats and twats”), tried to repair a young man who had “degloved” his penis, and tipped his hat to the 90-year-old who, in response to a test for dementia that required him to spell “world” backward, asked: “As in the planet or the past participle of to whirl?” Keyboards to hand, Kay remakes a few classic numbers (“The girl with emphysema goes walking”) and gets the audience chanting “halitosis” to the tune of the Hallelujah chorus.

This Is Going to Hurt – bracing and somber is about medical work in non-Covid times. Kay no longer practices: he could not recover from the death of a baby he delivered. In an unflinching hour, he reminds us that carers are all-year-round professionals, not angels jetted into a pandemic. Clapping them is not enough.

The Bridge has lived up to its name during the pandemic: keeping audiences linked to a promising theatrical future, with its series of monologues. Nine Lives first staged in Glasgow in 2014, brings a lively scatter of detail to an important story. A young man escapes from Zimbabwe, where his homosexuality has put him under threat. Waiting to hear the result of his asylum petition, he fights against the erasure of his identity. His ex-lover disowns him. Immigration officials command him to explain what a penis feels like.
The subject of his latest play looks obvious once announced, but it took Graham to pin it down as drama. Two women meet for a first date just before lockdown. Do they spend the weeks ahead together or apart? And will the spectators get to know what they decide?

Staged with a socially distanced audience as part of Nottingham Playhouse’s Unlocked festival, and watched by me via a live stream, Bubble whips through the giant contours of the past six months while deftly outlining the crucial markers in a new relationship. One watches Love Island, is directly involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, and is a gardening vegan; one is a schoolteacher. One is bare-armed, the other is muffled up. One is Pearl Mackie, the other is Jessica Raine. They are an absorbing duo.

Technical tangles meant I watched Adam Penford’s skillful, transparent staging on my mobile phone, with the characters the size of Playmobil figures. All the more to the production’s credit that its dynamism was always evident. Slipping between scenes from one side of the stage to the other, Mackie and Raine were the embodiment of uncertainty, fluid possibility. Both teetering on the edge of a precipice, yet beautifully at ease in their dancing bodies.

 

 

Surprised by a friendly approach, he lies into a new life, creating an imagined autobiography; when he runs away from his new friend, she feels she might have made him up. Writer Zodwa Nyoni’s rapid scenes do not quite come into focus as an individual story, but, under Alex Chisholm’s direction, Lladel Bryant embodies his own existence and those of others with multivoiced panache and glitter of gold stilettos.

One mild confusion. Ushers at the Bridge tell people to mask up but drinks are delivered to people’s seats at which point they pull their masks down, gulp, and splutter. Of course, drinks mean revenue, but might not Dr. Kay recommend nil by mouth?

Star ratings (out of five):
Bubble ★★★★
This Is Going to Hurt ★★★★
Nine Lives ★★★

source: theguardian.com

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