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Yellow Leaf Theatre presents

MODELLING SPITFIRES

 

Writer: Vanessa Rosenthal

 

Director: Alan Meadows

 

New End Theatre

 

15 February – 7 March 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

A review by Jafar Iqbal for EXTRA! EXTRA!

They say that theatre is a young person’s game. Programmes, initiatives, whatever name you want to give them really, they all seem to be for men and women under twenty-six. It’s the way forward, they say. What they fail to acknowledge is that those new theatre practitioners from five or ten or twenty years ago are still around. Still just as talented. Still just as hungry to bust their gut on a stage. They’re just not the ‘new’ we seem to be wanting to look for.

So when a company like Yellow Leaf comes along, you are forced to pay attention – they are the exception, not the rule. Made up primarily of people aged over 60, Yellow Leaf seeks to create theatre that is accessible to everyone, especially the older, more forgotten, community.

They make their London debut here with Modelling Spitfires at the New End Theatre. Written by Vanessa Rosenthal, who stars in it too, the play is a snapshot into the lives of those suffering from a mental illness, and the effect they have on the loved ones around them.

His schizophrenia seemingly better, Maurice (Chris Wilkinson) returns home from a psychiatric institution ready to resume normal life again. The entire production catalogues that first day back, first exploring the cracks in the relationship between Maurice and Marcia (Rosenthal), his sister, and then the complications arising from a third person entering the fold. Marcia wants to sell the house and let go of painful memories, but Maurice refuses to leave the house that harbours so many good ones. Whether this stubbornness is a sign that his illness has not lessened, or something else altogether, is what sets off the action.

Stylistically, this is the kind of play that I enjoy – three actors, one location, and running in real time. There are very few scene changes and, while the set has been quite elaborately designed, there is still a simplicity to it that has to be appreciated.

The script, too, is one to admire. Strongly written by Rosenthal, and well-directed by Alan Meadows, the script does a great job in highlighting not only the intricacies of three somewhat unhinged characters, but also the intricacies of their fragile relationships.

Experience is clearly something that the cast has on its side, and that shines through the performances. Wilkinson and Rosenthal are excellent as the dysfunctional siblings, with a natural chemistry that draws empathy from the audience. They are the only actors on stage in Act One, and do more than enough to keep the audience engaged, other than a slight drag towards the halfway point. So much important back-story requires a certain level of exposition, and this slows the play down.

This all changes in the second half, with the arrival of Janet, played by Julie Higginson. Higginson is fantastic as Maurice’s lover, bringing with her that extrovert Yorkshire charm that the play was missing. The tempo and humour of the play suddenly increases, which flows nicely as the production gets to its emotional climax. And, again, she shares a great chemistry with the other two characters that the audience is drawn to.

Some discrepancies in the script are prevalent – the presence of Marcia’s daughter (who is never seen on stage) seems irrelevant, and blatant exposition mars a script that required more showing than telling. The discrepancies are there, but are very minute, and don’t hurt the pleasure of the viewing for the audience.

The slightly slower and sombre nature of the production may not be for everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that this is a piece of theatre accessible to everyone. The story could have taken place anywhere, with three characters of completely different ages, and the emotion and the message and the drama would have been the same. It is the fact that Yellow Leaf have used this story and this platform as a way to continue championing a generation of underutilised performers that is admirable.

 

 

Tuesday – Saturday: 7.30pm

Saturday and Sunday: 3.30pm

Tickets: £18 / £16 concession

The New End Theatre, 27 New End, Hampstead, London NW3 1JD

http://www.newendtheatre.co.uk

Box Office: 0780 033 2733

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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