by Jane Brodie
Directed by Gemma Fairlie
3 - 28 March 2009
A review by Alice MacKenzie for EXTRA! EXTRA!
Given three weeks to write a play on "The Credit Crunch" Jane Brodie eschewed futuristic dystopias, historical comparisons, or political dramas. She wrote a dark comedy set in a funeral parlour at "the arse-end of the M25". Three people meet for the first time in a grubby, lilac (or is it purple?) funeral parlour to talk about Frank. Frank: the high-flying, woman loving, now deceased businessman, who died with less than nothing - not even enough to cover his own burial. Over the course of an hour the three of them struggle with each other, the past, Frank and their own bank balances to decide who is left with the duty to put him in the ground.
Hallelujah shows a "Six Feet Under" kind of irreverence and practicality in the face of death. The characters move between grief and inanities, and annoyance at being burdened with the responsibility for this man’s body. The room itself, designed by Lorna Ritchie, is part strange approximation of kitschy living room, and part dull and neglected institutional waiting room with its’ plastic flowers, cheap school corridor ceiling and bible phrases in cute crafty signs. Like the play, the room feels real and now, and complete. And yet there are the odd little things... Such as the moment when the characters break out of the real time action and simultaneously head towards a re-enactment of Frank's final jump. The intensity of the actors during this moment, and the completely unexpected change of style left me a little thrown. These odd moments were too rare to really alter the mood or meaning of the play and on thinking back over the performance came back to me almost as an aside, which felt a bit like a little gem or seed of something else that I couldn't quite tie in to the overall impression of the play.
Hallelujah has a bit of a feeling of a soap or docu-drama with it's up to the minute references and topical themes, achievable through the plays quick birth. But yet, the structure is purely theatrical. At times a little too theatrical in the physical shows of tension and power. Each character drip feeds their memories and revelations so as to create dramatic shifts in which both the audience and the characters build and rebuild the dead, but ever-present, Frank.
And then there is the title song of the play. ‘Hallelujah.’ ‘Hallelujah’ transformed into lift music is piped into the room at the touch of a button. Are you a Leonard Cohen or a Jeff Buckley? Or an X-factor follower? The song becomes a metaphor for how the characters think of themselves and how they want to be seen in the little power struggles of this little room. Mark Arends is quiveringly tense as Martin, the ruined Estate Agent son. Aiofe McMahon enters as the extravagant and red-headed mistress, Eithne, the long term 'other woman' of 15 years, whose impulsive judgements keep the revelations moving along dramatically. And then Joanne Howarth's powerfully collected Brenda, whose presence anchors the room. Brenda is Frank's first wife and a woman who seems to represent a time of saving and striving, next to the extravagance and now-ness of the others in a credit age. A now-ness so potent that they have become a group of people with no way of knowing how to look to the future. Together they try to piece together a man out of his separate lives and families. Each character had learnt to miss him even before he died and now no hope of 'having' him remains. Into this sense of loss and emotional debt, Brodie pours the reality of material debt, an interesting complication that forces each character to speak of what Frank mean to them; to decide if he is worth the £2600 it will take to bury him.
Jane Brodie and Gemma Fairlie's play is funny and sharp: a nicely irreverent way of dealing with the credit crunch. The rapid process lends the play a freshness that plays well with the chemistry of the three actors and the intimacy of the venue.
Box Office: 020 7978 7040
Performance times: Tuesday - Saturday, 7.45pm, Sundays 5pm
Theatre 503 at The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Rd, London, SW11 3BW
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