Harbor (Tabard Theatre)

I was invited to see this new production from the SWL Fringe company, which promised to be “a slice of Americana”. Written by Chad Beguelin and co-directed by Caroline Albrectsen and Claudio Salerno, Harbor brings white trash and the nouveau riche to Chiswick.

Harbor features just four characters: siblings Donna (Jessica Napier, all quiet desperation and hard veneer) and Kevin (Douglas Coghlan, convincing as a confused man wrestling with a past he thinks he’s outgrown); Donna’s fifteen-year old daughter Lottie (Constance Des Marais, who contributes a strong study of a young woman who has to mask her emotional instability); and Kevin’s wealthy husband Ted (Nicholas Gauci, nervously neurotic yet sweetly paternal to Lottie).

Donna, a singer who has so little success or talent that she prostitutes herself for money, lives in a foul-smelling and grubby van with Lottie, who is never in one place enough to be seen as anything other than the local freak. She’s learnt maturity from her mother’s irresponsibility and promiscuity.

Douglas Coghlan and Jessica Napier in Harbor

Kevin, a writer who has produced little in ten years, lives in a designer home in the Hamptons, tastefully furnished with books, lamps and cacti. Ted is a designer who is losing commissions while resenting other people’s children (“babies are like petri dishes, full of germs”). Their marriage has left them smug, satisfied and double-barrelled.

In a succession of mainly two-hander scenes, Donna lands on her brother’s doorstep and slowly upturns their stability and relationship with her family revelations, drinking and weed smoking, and succession of “fag”, “fairy”, “homo” and “dick” jokes. It’s clear her motivation is a bit darker than simple mischief.

Uproariously funny in places, this play also veers into the thoughtful and even tragic, as Lottie and Ted both find their dreams collapsing, as new family units find their feet. Only Lottie is really likeable, with the adults proving themselves to truly have feet of clay.

The company of Harbor

There’s a beautifully directed scene between Ted and Lottie in a Macdonald’s diner, another with Donna and Lottie with a disembodied voice on the phone, another at Lottie’s birthday party when her mother ruins her happiness as she has done so many times before.

Scenes of normality, too, in locations ranging from the bathroom to a parking lot: small conversations all couples have, big revelations that can crack open the strongest bond.

I found Harbor much more than a succession of one-liners, or a revolving door of familial couples. Just as Lottie finds echoes of The House of Mirth or Mrs Dalloway in the life she experiences, there’s more going on below the surface than Kevin’s mommy neurosis, Ted’s dream of being a teenage cheerleader, or Donna trading hand jobs for cash.

Harbor runs at the Tabard Theatre until 24 August. It’s worth a trip out to West London if you want to catch something off the beaten track.

Photos courtesy of Claudio Salerno.

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Type on Paper (Tabard Theatre)

Over in Turnham Green, Adam Highland’s first stage play, Type on Paper, proves to be a rather unusual political piece which opens conventionally, with young MP Miles (Edward Green) and his aide Sophie (Helen Percival) discussing process in the House of Commons.

Ben (Kriss Dillon) is tapping away on an old-fashioned typewriter (incongurous with all the e-devices in evidence), and it transpires he is the writer interacting with his characters.

Edward Green, Helen Percival and Kriss Dillon as Miles, Sophie and Ben
Edward Green, Helen Percival and Kriss Dillon as Miles, Sophie and Ben

Once Ben engineers a job within his own play, the stage is set for a clever meta piece in which each person, real or imagined, influences each other. This is promising stuff, as is an unrequited love plot kickstarted by an amusing and euphemistic discussion between Ben and Sophie about “tennis”.

Miles waits for his lines, refuses to engage with some of Ben’s plot devices, and appears confused when incidental music is heard between scenes. He is daddy’s proverbial blue-eyed boy, an arrogant Labour centrist who cannot understand how his party has stepped to the left.

Helen Percival as Sophie
Helen Percival as Sophie

Sophie is more complex, only revealing her vulnerabilities when drinking and dancing to Bob Seeger tracks, but she stops short of gaining our sympathy or interest. Perhaps this is another indication of the shallowness of politics and those who play within it.

What I didn’t like was the underhand “Corbyn-bashing” in the person of the off-stage radical leadership contender, Grady. Perhaps Highland wanted to make something of a disgruntled centrist comment, or, does the play address the gap between the Labour parliamentarians and their wider following? Either way, there’s more than enough of that in real life, and I didn’t feel it was needed here.

Edward Green and Chris Dillon as Miles and Ben
Edward Green and Chris Dillon as Miles and Ben

Type on Paper is short (an economical 70 minutes), with exemplary acting throughout, strong direction from Tallulah Sheffield in her debut, and a suggestive set of box files, bottles, and books.

For me, the bits that were most successful and innovative were those involving Ben (a character who dabbles in everything and knows nothing) stepping into his own imagination and facing up to his own limitations.

Type on Paper runs at the Tabard Theatre until 3 August. Photo credits Edward Green and Tallulah Sheffield.

The Importance of Being Earnest (Tabard Theatre)

Oscar Wilde’s most celebrated play comes to the tiny Tabard Theatre in Turnham Green, and it is a lot of fun as ever.

Kirsty Jackson and Samuel Oakes
Kirsty Jackson and Samuel Oakes

This is a shortened version (no “cake” for Gwendolen) with some more modern modifications (the “cab” rather than the “carriage”), and rather more giggling and physical scrapping than you’ll have seen in previous versions. I have to point out, that more than one of the cast stumble over some of those iconic lines, which is a shame.

The company of The Importance of Being Earnest
The company of The Importance of Being Earnest

To bring something fresh and new to Wilde means to take risks with the material – it doesn’t have to mean casting David Suchet as Lady Bracknell, but it should bring something different to the table, and adding a throwaway line after the iconic closer isn’t necessarily the way.

As Lady B, Non Vaughan-Thomas definitely channels the spirit of Edith Evans from the classic film version of Earnest, but with additional, and hilarious, face-pulling.

Tim Gibson. Melissa Knighton and Non Vaughan-Thomas
Tim Gibson. Melissa Knighton and Non Vaughan-Thomas

With a wide-eyed Gwendolen (Melissa Knighton, pleasingly haughty), and a juvenile giggler of an Algernon (Samuel Oakes), this version sometimes wanders into the sphere of farce, but Wilde’s clever wit always pulls it back.

As Jack, Tim Gibson mugs well but misses the stoic seriousness of the country gentleman, but Kirsty Jackson’s annoyingly imaginative and twittery Cecily is a delight.

Paul Foulds (in several small parts, laconic servants and officials), Dean Harris (as Chasuble) and Jo Ashe (as a Prism quivering with piety) round out the cast in a production directed by David Phipps-Davis and designed by Leah Sams.

Jo Ashe and Kirsty Jackson
Jo Ashe and Kirsty Jackson

The Importance of Being Earnest runs at this quirky and eccentric theatre until 23 June. Photos by Andreas Grieger.