nick730 (nick730) wrote,

Theatre review: Lower Ninth

Arguably one of outgoing Artistic Director Michael Grandage's biggest contributions to the Donmar Warehouse has been the way he's expanded the theatre's brand. As Grandage leaves the post next year, the latest endeavour, the annual Donmar Trafalgar season, is likely to be the last of his innovations. This 12-week residency at Trafalgar 2 isn't as flashy as their last foray into the West End, but in its own way could be as interesting, as it's a showcase of directors who've taken part in the Donmar's Resident Assistant Director Programme. First up is Charlotte Westenra, who directs a tight, well-paced production of American writer Beau Willimon's Lower Ninth. The publicity slightly inaccurately calls it a new play; not that 3 years makes it old, but "UK premiere" might have been a more accurate plug for a play first seen in the States in 2007.

The title refers to a poor, mostly black district of New Orleans that was one of the worst affected by Hurricane Katrina. With the area flooded, E-Z (Anthony Welsh) and Malcom (Ray Fearon) are sitting on a roof, hoping to survive long enough for a rescue helicopter to find them. With them is the dead body of E-Z's friend Lowboy (whose ghost is played by Richie Campbell when E-Z's dehydration starts to cause hallucinations) who drowned when he refused to leave his car. The play's comic tone is set from the start when the born-again Malcom is praying over Lowboy's body in what becomes more of a sermon (I'm quite glad the actors were confined to Ben Stones' simple, effective set of the island-like roof, because Fearon has a lot of RSC in his bio and is therefore a spitter) only to have a fed-up E-Z interrupt him. Willimon's simple set-up is basically a survival story but in the casual dialogue he fits in a lot of gradual buildup where we find out the history between the three characters. A picture of the area before the hurricane is also gradually built up, while there are a couple of references to George W Bush without the author making the mistake of giving the characters knowledge of his actions (or lack of them) that they wouldn't, at that time, have had. With a good script to play with and confident direction, the chemistry in the actors' interactions is what makes this an entertaining and ultimately moving 65 minutes at the theatre.

Lower Ninth by Beau Willimon is booking until the 23rd of October at Trafalgar Studio 2.
Tags: theatre, theatre reviews

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