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Theatre review: Rough Cuts - Court Shorts 
21st-Jan-2011 10:27 pm
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The Royal Court's a busy place, usually premiering two new productions a month but a couple of times a year there's a brief lull in their output. January's usually one such time and some of the time's being filled with Rough Cuts, a season of rehearsed readings of short plays and work-in-progress. There were two shows on tonight and you got a great discount for booking them as a double bill so this is the first of two reviews from me tonight; again, I stress these are not finished plays, and the cast have not had a long time to work on them - we were told rehearsals began on Wednesday, and since the first performance was also that evening that must have been interesting for them to say the least. Court Shorts first then, a trio of 15-20 minute plays.

New writer Brad Birch's Permafrost opens the evening, with Lorraine Ashbourne as a recently-widowed woman and Tom Brooke as a colleague of her late husband's, who keeps visiting her to make sure she's OK. There's a sense that he feels some guilt over something we're not privy to, and the pared-down dialogue and performances hold the attention admirably. Some of the themes Birch is trying to bring up felt muddled to me but I felt as if a full-length version of this could go either way - it might end up being a fascinating, somewhat Pinteresque two-hander, or the characters could struggle to stay interesting if stretched over a longer play. Director James Macdonald had to take over at short notice from Sam Taylor Wood who was originally due to direct, and he's (effectively) concentrated on just the actors' vocal performances; they stay seated while stage directions are read out when necessary.

Death is a feature of Alia Bano's Buried as well, which Joe Hill-Gibbins directs; Claudia Harrison plays Jane, whose close friend and colleague Raq (Stephanie Street) has just lost her mother. Raq is a Muslim and the funeral traditions initially make Jane uncomfortable and as time goes on threaten the women's friendship. There's some male totty as Geoffrey Streatfeild (who seems to have been put into a casting box that says "charming bastard") plays Jane's boyfriend, a teacher with a fondness for casually racist jokes. Bano's play is the one I'd be most interested to see developed into a full-length one, I think there's a lot of scope for these characters. It was also a piece I could identify with - while the specific traditions of Orthodox and Muslim funerals may be completely different, the endless death rituals that carry on for weeks and months after the event, and which bring relatives out of the woodwork to tut if you get anything wrong, are something that felt very familiar to me.

DC Jackson's Hard Gravity, directed by Jo McInnes, is the most self-contained, feeling essentially like an extended sketch. Brian Ferguson and Rosalind Sydney are John and Clare, meeting in a bar where John is about to break up with Clare. At the same time, Paul Higgins and Siobhan Redmond act out the same characters' next meeting, ten years later, the older versions' lines often overlapping with their younger selves', and frequently what they have to say hasn't changed much. It's a clever idea, nicely executed, and like Jackson's My Romantic History it's very funny but rather harsh. Overall some interesting ideas and performances over the three short plays.

Rough Cuts - Court Shorts by Brad Birch, Alia Bano and DC Jackson is booking until the 22nd of January at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.
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