Saturday, 12 January 2013

Cross Purpose - review

Written by: Daisy Thurston-Gent 

Kings Head Theatre, London

Gathered in the amicable room of the King’s Head Theatre, a chill is present as the audience arrive for the anticipated return of Albert Camus’ Absurdist novelty Cross Purpose. Before the play has even begun, the eerie underscore provides a jarring echo that alerts the audience to the troubles that lie ahead. These audio qualities underplay throughout the performance, chiming at moments to frame the barren mysteries that unfold. The unsettling nature of this production immediately engulfs you ensuring that you are constantly looking over your shoulder.

Photo: Chris Gardner
The dusty ornaments that litter the stage and the stained, peeling wallpaper of the set provide the perfect grotesque backdrop for the two women that take to the stage. As the play shudders into life we are thrown into the tiring lives of Martha and her Mother, a murderous duo who rob wealthy travellers staying at their guesthouse, and subsequently drown them in the river. The set provides a perfect snapshot into the conversations that are witnessed and overheard when secretes ripple through the walls and are shut away behind closed doors. Indeed, each character creeps between scenes as if to avoid disturbing the perfect upset that is harmlessly bubbling in this Absurdist drama.

Photo: Chris Gardner
The play is riddled with unfulfilled fantasies, revealing characters with underlying elements of suffering brought to a head during moments of emotional anguish. The general execution of the acting was admirable, most notably Jamie Birkett playing the sinister Martha. In an intensely dark performance (the role that gained her an Off West End Award nomination), Birkett immediately captures her audience as she marches through the door, elevating this gaunt, eye-rolling daughter with the hoarse voice of Camus’ Absurdist Realism. Beyond the beautifully shabby costume, Director Stephen Whitson has successfully presented us with a surprising anti-hero found in a bleak young woman, fated to live in torment.

Paddy Navin appears here as the aged Mother who longs for rest after a lifetime’s worth of killings. Navin executes the character’s complexity effortlessly, moving with ease between humorous snaps at her daughter to monologues of tender self-loathing. For audiences that were expecting more absurdity from Whitson’s take on the Camus classic, the slow pace of the Mother can jar with that of Martha’s sharp and frantic, movements, meaning that her heightened, menacing potential is never fully reached.

Photo: Chris Gardner
The entrance of Jan (David Lomax), the son who has come home anonymously to spend a night in his mother’s guesthouse, and doting wife Maria (Kemi-Bo Jacobs), marks a break in the grim outlook of the play, and reveals the desired human emotion that has been drained from Martha and her Mother. The level of absurdity prior to their entrance, however, needed to have been more heightened to mark the deliberate visual contrast between the two pairs. In a final climactic dialogue between Martha and Maria, Jacobs crumbles spectacularly into the lovesick wreck with the news that her husband is dead. Birkett’s deadpan delivery in this section allowed confident laughter amongst the audience, which is then strangely silenced following Jacobs’ captivating dramatic reaction. In such areas, Whitson’s intentions seem slightly muddled and as a result the humour falls a little short. Nevertheless, the play holds your attention and marks a successful revival of the Camus script, in which the writer’s own haunting outlook on life is ­­incessant. As mysterious servant Leonard Fenton’s final line encapsulates: even when help is being cried out for, Cross Purpose will boldly tell you “No”.  

This production runs until 2 February 2013

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