Monday, 28 January 2013

Mare Rider - review

Written by: Jess Nesling (@JessNes1)

Arcola Theatre, London

Kathryn Hunter may only be playing a mythical character but she is magical to watch on stage. The Olivier award-winning actress returns to the Arcola Theatre in East London to perform in Leyla Nazli’s surreal new social piece, Mare Rider.

Nazli is the Executive Producer at the Arcola. Her first play Silver Birch House was chosen for The Royal Court Fifty, a composition of fifty plays chosen in association with the BBC to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Royal Court and the diversity of themes voiced by the theatre in this time. The Arcola, too, is renowned for its great variety of productions. Nazli certainly has a reputation to preserve.
The Turkish playwright combines ancient myth and modern society to offer a social commentary on the twenty-first century. The story unfolds on the maternity ward of a Hackney Hospital, where patient Selma (Anna Francolini) is surprised to find Elka (Hunter) – a character from Turkish fable (and of Selma’s nightmares) – at the end of her hospital bed. According to myth, Elka is a sinister creature who rides horses bareback over the plains of Antolia and haunts new mothers. When she starts to tell Selma her story, however, a question mark starts to form: is she really evil or just misunderstood?

The modest staging (Matthew Wright) is markedly clinical, with plain white bedding, curtains and a strip of white flooring providing the main framework in the middle of the theatre. The audience is split in two, mirroring each other either side of the stage. Selma and Claire are both clothed in white and five black chairs are positioned around the scene. Elka’s dark, muddy-hemmed clothing and mad tangle of hair provide a stark contrast, adding to her seemingly ghastly character and accenting her opinions that oppose so strongly with the way of the twenty-first century.

The dialogue between the two women reveals the underlying social message of this play. It was Nazli’s vision to portray Elka as an early feminist and Hunter easily slips into this role. She explains how she was enslaved when she was young and forced into an unhappy marriage. As the plot unfolds, however, it seems that Selma is more trapped in her supposedly free modern life than Elka.

Elka provides humorous quips throughout, despairing that “women always make excuses for men”. Hunter’s deliciously rasping voice adds to the comic delivery and provides a foundation for Elka’s wild and out of place character. Yet under the comedy lies a rather unnerving and dark reality about modern life. The plot thickens with the entrance of Selma’s husband Mark (Matthew Flynn), who is too honest with attractive nurse Claire (Hara Yannas). Unaware that his wife is listening, Mark confesses that he has been on the verge of leaving her. When Claire exclaims that being married for ten years is fantastic he retorts with “…is it?” Nazli uses Mark and Selma, along with their unstable relationship, as an illustration of modern life. At times, the attempt to shine light on problems embedded in our culture is too contrived. More often than not, however, it works beautifully, providing a dark and worrying insight into our society of supposedly free choices. The play may only be an hour long but it leaves you asking questions long after you leave the theatre.

Mare Rider is being performed as part of the theatrical collaboration ‘Europe Now’ which brings together four theatres in Sweden, Holland, Germany and Turkey – the homeland of both Nazli and director Mehmet Ergen. 

This production runs until 16 February 2013. 

Follow us on Twitter / Like us on Facebook


Anonymous said...

Fab review, you have encouraged me to go and see it.
C Fleming

Adam Penny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adam Penny said...

Thanks for reading - and I'm sure Jess is as pleased as I am that you enjoyed it. :)