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Theatre review: Double Feature - Edgar and Annabel / The Swan 
19th-Aug-2011 11:55 pm
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Sometimes you don't see someone for a while then see them a lot in one go, and so it was as Ian was my theatre companion the second night in a row tonight. He said he'd spotted someone else who'd been in the audience of Anna Christie last night and just as we were talking about how, when you go to the theatre as much as I do, you often see the same faces, I spotted 3rdspearcarrier, rather neatly proving the point. We were at the Paintframe for the other half of the National's Double Feature quartet of new short plays. And like last time here's the view from the viewing platform they've got set up, of the stage-within-a-stage set for Sam Holcroft's Edgar and Annabel:

"Charming" seems an odd word for a piece about a group of freedom fighters (/terrorist cell, depending on your point of view) cooking up bombs but Holcroft's piece somehow manages it. In a more authoritarian Britain, every home is bugged, a computer listening to the rhythms of speech and flagging up anything out of the ordinary. Marianne (the ever-brilliant Kirsty Bushell,) is a member of an opposition party with a paramilitary wing, living in a suburban home where explosives are hidden under the floorboards. To trick the computers, she and another agent pretend to be married couple Edgar and Annabel, exchanging scripted banalities. At the start of the play her partner has mysteriously disappeared, and a new "Edgar," Nick (Trystan Gravelle,) turns up to play her husband. But the two new "co-stars" don't get along at first, and we see them trying to change the script to suit them, while at the same time arming the resistance. Holcroft has come up with a genuinely original premise and executed it perfectly, Lyndsey Turner's production ably serving it with some moving and thought-provoking moments but mostly with a lot of humour. A standout scene sees Bushell, Gravelle, Karina Fernandez and Tom Basden having a karaoke competition for the benefit of the microphones while putting together Molotov cocktails.

The first play is presented end-on, and once again in the interval the space is completely reconfigured, and Ian said he really enjoyed watching this all go on from the viewing platform. (This time a lot more people cottoned on to this so it was a bit crowded by the time I got back from the loo, but at least I'd seen them do it last time.) The Swan is presented in a deep thrust stage, and I'm not saying DC Moore has a particular affinity with pubs but after Honest was actually performed in one, that is indeed what The Swan turns out to be, a particularly grim London boozer on its last legs, soon to be demolished to make way for flats. Among the mess from last night, food is laid out ready for a wake, that of Michael who has died in a car crash. His father Jim (Trevor Cooper) hasn't actually gone to the funeral and is pouring himself drinks in the deserted pub instead, joined soon by Russell (Richard Hope,) another of the regulars. The central relationship is between Michael's step-daughter Denise (Pippa Bennett-Warner) and Jim, the closest thing she has to a grandfather. The play is like a companion piece to Honest in more than just setting and director (Polly Findlay) as the themes again deal with truth and lies, why we might tell a lie for selfish reasons, why a lie might be the best thing for someone else, and the particularly British way of dealing with these things. It's moving and thought-provoking but again Moore does this with a lot of humour, some rather poetically epic swearing, and a sitcomesque cast of characters: Hope's quiet barfly, considered a bit too good for the Swan by its other patrons but mainly there to avoid his wife; Nitin Kundra in the gormless laddish role he seems to specialise in; Claire-Louise Cordwell as his gobby girlfriend, convinced that telling people she's got ADHD gives her licence to say whatever she likes; and the steadier, grief-stricken influence of Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Denise's mother. Moore's ultimate purpose is something a bit deeper than sitcom but you kind of wish it was one as you wouldn't mind returning to these characters and performances on a weekly basis. Ian and Rob also seemed particularly impressed with this play, but both of tonight's make this by far the stronger of the two double bills.

Double Feature - Edgar and Annabel / The Swan by Sam Holcroft and DC Moore is booking until the 10th of September at the National Theatre's Paintframe.
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