As it turns out, I'm going to two shows starring Merlin regulars on consecutive days. First is Colin Morgan returning to the stage, and controversially to a theatre without "Vic" in its name as he's currently Upstairs at the Royal Court. He is playing A Gay though, so it's not all uncharted territory. He plays the youngest son in a Colombian family prone to high drama in Pedro Miguel Rozo's 80-minute Our Private Life, a black comedy that lives up to both parts of that description. The story centres on a damaging rumour that spreads like wildfire in a village that's grown large enough to start calling itself a town; so the residents now aspire to an urban sophistication, while still knowing everything about everyone else.
At the start of the play The Father (Anthony O'Donnell) has been accused of repeatedly sexually molesting 12-year-old Joaquín (Joshua Williams,) the son of a former employee (prepubescent sex being the Jerwood Upstairs' new Dead Babies.) The family try to contain the rumour but at the same time sons Sergio (Eugene O'Hare) and Carlos (Morgan) start wondering if they might have repressed memories of similar abuse by their father; Carlos who is gay, bipolar and a serial fantasist thinks this might explain his current situation. Enter an unscrupulous psychiatrist (Being Human alumnus Adrian Schiller) whose hypnosis uncovers - or maybe fabricates? - these repressed memories.
There's an ongoing theme referencing the larger-than-life South American telenovelas (for which Rozo has also written) and Lyndsey Turner's production takes on some of their frantic hyperreality, especially in the character of The Mother, (an excellent Ishia Bennison,) a breast cancer survivor who tries to keep the family together but isn't above flinging her prosthetic breast across the kitchen when she gets into a rage. Rozo also constantly fucks around with the fourth wall, having characters turn and address the audience, only to have the other people onstage at the time comment on the fact that their inner monologue's just become audible. The pace and tone is helped by Lizzie Clachan's set, all sliding panels and hidden entrances (and another popular recent design meme, of characters making entrances and exits via kitchen furnishings.) It's a very funny play that maintains a dark tone thanks to its subject matter, while wrong-footing you about whether this rumour does indeed have a truth to it or is entirely fabricated; and when things do seem to have been resolved a genuinely creepy epilogue throws yet another different light on things. The performances are all fast-paced and strong but the production's also helped by a nice attention to detail; I especially liked The Psychiatrist's drinks cabinet which, as he gets more work thanks to the controversy, contains more expensive-looking booze every time he opens it. A strong start to 2011's programme for the Upstairs space.
Our Private Life by Pedro Miguel Rozo, translated by Simon Scardifield, is booking until the 12th of March at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.