Brighton Year-Round 2022
Written by Robert Evans, Directed by Jesse Jones, Set & Costume Designer Peter Mackintosh, Lighting Design Rory Beaton, Sound Designer Beth Duke, Associate Set & Costume Designer Simon Wells, Wigs, Supervisor Ryan Walklett, Production Manager Jason Culverwell
CSM Sue Berry, DSM Claire Wilmore, ASM & Book cover Sammie Richards, Technical Assistant Stage Manager Elle Hutchinson, Sound No. 1 Adam Gibson, Sound No. 2 Sophie Young, LX No. 1 James Stokes, Head of wardrobe Sonia Hogg, Wardrobe Deputy Holly Taylor, Head of wigs Laura Johnson.
After December 17th on tour
Some things are too awful for description. This is not for the feint of heart. You must love it or run screaming. That might be good advice as Rob Evans’ Death Drop 2 Back in the Habit lands at Theatre Royal Brighton.
Indeed the awful voice of Corrina Buchan’s Cardinal compels Father Alfie Romeo (LoUis CYfer) to investigate the nefarious Abbey of St Babs, populated – polluted – by Mother Superior (Victoria Scone) and some very rum nuns – Sis Titis (Alex Roberts) Sister Mary Berry (Cheryl Hole) Sister Maria JulieAndrews (River Medway) and a brief walk-on for Joseph Lycett-Barnes/Ophelia Love: who alongside Buchan is seriously underused. The focus is on the other five.
And on the outstanding production values – Peter Mackintosh’s magnificent blue-stoned abbey with two chequered floors after scene-changes, lighted lance windows and Rory Beaton’s lighting slanting stairways to hell and back, with actors miming stalks down stone-flagged ghostly corridors in some uproarious physical theatre. It stabs out of the dark but with laser-precision.
Beth Duke’s sound is stunning. Like the lighting it explodes all round the theatre abruptly and with a sonic ping, never too booming. Simon Wells’ costumes and Ryan Walklett’s wigs both seem on steroids. Bluntly, there’s a few recent productions that could have benefitted from this team, directed by Jesse Jones.
Which brings us to bewilderment. The excellent Rob Evans (aka Robert Alan Evans), whose The Woods played at the Royal Court in September 2018, has taken leave of our senses. In that contused and brilliant play, Lesley Sharp and Tom Mothersdale enacted dream traumas and aftermaths in an outstanding production directed by Lucy Morrison.
I say that as unless you saw the credits (and you’d think his altered name wouldn’t own it) you’d not think there was a Robert Evans who brought one of the most disturbing and powerful plays of 2018 to the Royal Court Upstairs (its proper home), so could have perpetrated on this talented bunch and outstanding production, a Radio 4 ‘comedy’ script headed for the oblivion of 11pm because someone knows a Beeb producer.
Perhaps I’m one of the few to have seen both. So let me say it again: despite obliquities and aching non-resolutions in The Woods Evans can be an outstanding writer – and adaptor of, for instance Kes, Peter Pan, Pinocchio.
So what’s Evans doing? Clearly indulging a joke for this team – and we in Brighton really get it at one level – a send-up of a send-up of dodgy religion and satires of a satire: if this was on Palace (sorry Brighton) Pier you’d suck it down a piece of rock with LGBTQIA and Death to “TERFS and Tories” – that’s flagged – right through it in delicious pink. So yes, it’s about the outrageous Alex Roberts as Sis Titis, a towering Drag Queen who never quite sings ‘I Shall Survive’ but looks oh so 1970s in a blaze of Barbara Dickson hair.
Poor LoUis CYfer, the luckless homophobe and fire-belching priest Father Romeo dispatched to burn everyone, beetles around accidentally stabbing everyone instead: with crosses – bit of an unresolved issue there, you’d think. CYfer’s the focal point of terror and unknowing, so is our way in to outrage and outing.
All that’s stopping Romeo is Victoria Scone’s seraphic, gently menacing Mother Superior, anxious to serve Romeo meat. Now where did that come from? If you know your sacraments and what happens next, you sort of guess. Looks delicious mind.
Cheryl Hole’s Mary Berry who enjoys a disagreement with food towers in a blonde wig and runs faster than anyone, a sort of outdoors yomping nun. Whereas River Medway so often is just about to break into The Sound – and gets stopped. Almost terminally you might say, playing um straighter than their sisters.
So let’s not go into the plot. Things certainly lift in Act 2, with a zombie outbreak and a lot of rewilding nuns: the team are excellent, on point for the pointless, and on cue for the truly clueless non-sequiters that bring us to wonder if is indeed really called The Name of the Ring. Umberto Eco and JRR Tolkien, you can fight it out here. But that ring? Oh you’ll not believe what it is.
Evans straddles the disturbing, tortuous gothic of The Woods, involving a lost boy and a Wolf who wants to consume him; and in adapting Kes as well as Peter Pan, and Pinocchio a way out through revisiting innocence. In Death Drop 2 Back in the Habit he thinks he just wants to have fun. His sulphurous talent pursues him. He lacks the incisiveness of good farce: the connotative jokes, the transgressions, don’t land sharply because Evans tries to inject meaning in asides, instead of drawing out a stronger storyline. In a word he tries too hard. In The Woods his best half-stories are broken, snow-submerged things. But that’s in another country.
Theseus remarks in the Dream: “The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse, if imagination amend them” and these people are some of the best in this kind. But Hippolyta’s “This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard” is what I can’t improve on, when Evans’ own imagination has to amend itself. Sometimes we need to stretch our sense of the silly. Just make sure it’s not a rubber band.