Nuclear War, Buried, Graceland (Old Red Lion)

Three plays by three different dramatists, brought to the stage by three different directors: that is what the Old Red Lion Theatre have put together as a “triptych” this March.

First up, and longest, is Buried, by David Spencer, which tells the story of his father Max who found himself buried alive during the war before eventual rescue. Max is played by James Demaine, who portrays his own grandfather, making this a true family affair.

James Demaine in Buried
James Demaine in Buried

Told over 45 minutes as a solo piece, we follow Max as he recalls events from his past while trapped and hoping for rescue: his childhood in Ireland where “nobody wants you, not even God”, where he swam in the Liffey, stole a boy’s watch and broke it, and clung to his Bible.

Ryan Hutton and Alexander Knott direct Buried, which boasts accomplished lighting and sound and atmospheric sets (Gabriella Coomber, Samuel Heron and Anna Kezia Williams are credited for tech and design).

It’s often hard to keep the attention in a monologue, but we are with Max as he becomes increasingly desperate and scared, and we’re with him as a neglected little boy in “the Free State”.

After an interval we have consecutive performances of first Graceland, then Nuclear War.

Anthony Cozens in Graceland
Anthony Cozens in Graceland

The former, written and co-directed (with Sonnie Beckett) by Max Saunders-Singer, places the audience in the schoolroom of the stressed-out teacher Mr Crighton. He’s played by Anthony Cozens, at first presenting as an affable if irritated jobsworth, but we quickly find darker forces are at work.

This is a tightly-constructed piece of writing, played with full lighting and audience participation – and even an unrehearsed comment or two! Cozens commands the space well and handles the disintegration of his character and the cruelty of the pupils he conjures up with exceptional skill.

It’s a piece which is far more complex than its short length suggests, and its denouement harks back to some of the themes explored in the descriptions of conflict in Buried.

Finally, Simon Stephens’s Nuclear War suggests the apocalypse in the ordinary, as two women – or perhaps two facets of the same character – prepare for a night out, in a setting where something is slightly off.

Directed by Alexander Knott, with movement directed by Georgia Richardson, Nuclear War mixes heightened poetical language with physical movement and a frankness of purpose.

Zöe Grain and Freya Sharp play the women, first clad in white shifts then in black boots and jackets. They talk about grey skies, about the elements needed for a teacup to break, and about casual sexual encounters.

Zöe Grain and Freya Sharp in Nuclear War
Zöe Grain and Freya Sharp in Nuclear War

Grain is the taller and more direct of the two; Sharp the shorter and more reticent. They mirror each other. In one scene they swap jackets in a fluid swap where they appear as one for a moment. It’s a dreamy, elegant and elegaic piece with a side order of smut, which links it with the film projected in Graceland.

This trio of plays complement each other and prove that yet again, the Old Red Lion is a force to be reckoned with in London pub theatre.

You can see Nuclear War, Buried and Graceland until 21st March. Images are by Charles Flint Photography.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see this triptych.