FringeReview UK 2017
Julia Jarcho’s 2013 Obie-winning Grimly Handsome is all about perishing in the cold; you’re grateful it’s not promenade and indoors. Actors aren’t so lucky. Director Sam Pritchard and designer Chloe Lamford collaborate on a production where direction picks through the given space and visa-versa
Stumbling through the frozen yard of the Royal Court to its new Site, you feel the weather’s conspired to add a touch of genius to this immersive experience, set in New York’s bleak December.
Julia Jarcho’s 2013 Obie-winning Grimly Handsome is all about perishing in the cold; you’re grateful it’s not promenade and indoors. Actors aren’t so lucky. Sam Pritchard and Chloe Lamford collaborate on a production where direction picks through the given space and visa-versa, since the space is a kind of animal.
Pre-set you’re invited to wander into rooms where the disjecta membra of an obsession – a small room with NYPD cops cut-out of magazines signals an obsessed character, a police procedures room with pre-set police analyst, sample bags haunted nearby with stuffed feral creatures who end up vowing with their teeth (keep hold of that), a police tent with suited forensics at a crime scene outside in the biting chill. Christmas tinsel, a toys grotto where some of these march in later.
As the actors do too in this eighty-five minute piece, in all sorts of ways, including in darkness with flashlights and other appendages. We glimpse them from inside huddling as they talk out in the chill, made comprehensible by a splash of monitors and small control battery in the main warehouse-cum-studio (a bit like an abandoned Court Upstairs if you know it). Christmas-tree bartering, cops muttering, dangerous seduction.
Alex Austin (the handsome) and Alex Beckett sell Christmas trees – stacked up outside – hailing from some eastern European country. They speak straight English to each other, in their own tongue, and thick, broken English to a punter Amaka Okafor’s Natalia, suggesting some distant kinship (she’s all Ns in a swirl of identities). They feel none though she’s offered a free dwarf tree and coffee. ‘She’s yours’ says the G-man (to the A one), here for the moment Gregor. Natalia obsesses over crime novels, wears a dark red bobby hat (blood red riding hood?) and makes a decision.
People morph but retain a DSNA trace of their identities throughout this three-part comic chiller, hence the A G and Ns. Okafor’s Nelly is married to Griggins now as he partners Alpert in solving the Christmas Ripper murders, same of =r copycat? The law’s on your side but what’s that to do wit the price and disturbance of Nelly’s dreams of what Alpert tells her he fantasises over doing to her in blood, in which she joins in. There’s scenes where she’s an old male suspect, or of the two men working out with exercise gear dragged in, of yellow marker etched round a body, of mutual suspicion and a suggested confrontation of doubles, a staggering man.
And red pandas feasting on fresh vertebrae discussing whether they have a sense memory of the Himalayas. where it goes after that, is worth withholding.
There’s certainly an exo-skeletal sense in the way everything’s worked out, the actors change in front of us but act outdoors, and we’re invited to see everything turned inside-out. It’s a superb metaphor for the concept. Okafar, fresh from Saint George and the Dragon at the National must have phenomenal stamina and is surely one to watch. Austin too has just impressed at the Arcola’s Thebes Land inhabiting similar ferocities and quick-flip of characters, and Beckett similarly in Blue Heart last year at Orange Tree – a fallible impersonator. They’re all superlatively dodgy, discomfited and disconcerting, as frozen in their fantasies as the obliging inclement weather. If you want theatre to change your life a little and wonder where our DNA and urges trek to, you could do infinitely worse than shiver here.