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FringeReview UK 2022


Papatango with Southwark Playhouse

Genre: Contemporary, Drama, LGBT, Mainstream Theatre, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: Southwark Playhouse Borough, Large Studio


Low Down

Directed by George Turvey, Set & Costume Designer Jasmine Swan (Associate Set & Costumer Designer Victoria Maytom), Lighting Design Bethany Gupwell, Composer & Sound Designer Asaf Zohar, Producer Chris Foxon, Costumer Supervisor Natalia Alvarez, Production Manager Ian Taylor for eStage, Stage Manager Jo Alexander, Lighting Programmer & production Electrician Matthew Carnazza, Cover Stage Manager Elsie O’Rourke.

Till December 3rd


Jasmine Swan’s set is a diaphanous cube visible each of the three sides you face, otherwise opaque. It’s a functioning, dowdy kitchen we’re invited to spy on. We’re complicit, till composer Asaf Zohar’s numinous, liminal chords start spooking and we edge from a Birmingham-area town to somewhere west of Conor McPherson. Accordingly, Bethany Gupwell’s lighting is often the liminal sort at 4am, and haunts through the gauze.

Clive Judd’s Here though, making its and the playwright’s debut at the Southwark Playhouse, is anything but spectral. It’s a precise, super-notated script where actors are invited to “have some fun”. Judd’s already a seasoned director. Control and licence are second-nature. This might be a debut but he knows exactly what to ask for. Judd adds: “There is a lot of silence in this play… Please listen to it.”

The Papatango prize play mounted here each November has brought some stunning work – recently Sam Bailey’s Shook, and Iman Qureshi’s  The Funeral Director. Here has the stamp of Papatango: innovative, intimate, intense. Judd has choreographed every page of it with directions, some of which (all the owl-hoots) have evaporated.

Directed by Papatango’s George Turvey, it’s a sure-footed, if languorous work lasting with an interval two-and-a-half hours. Its hyper-attentive naturalism resembles much of the New York Theater school and those influenced by Richard Nelson. No bad thing. In these actors’ hands, there’s not a beat missed: you’re hooked.

Matt (Sam Baker-Jones, making his stage debut) arrives at his aunt’s and uncle’s family home. He seems to have none of his own and his cousin Jess (Hannah Millward) more interested in him than he knows how to be in himself, gently probes him about his mother, Mary. He seems to have lost her too, though more accurately, she seems cut off and losing everyone with mental distress. Baker-Jones moves from obstreperous raconteur to music sharer to hunched aphasic in a short time. Millward’s Jess is initially a mutely rising tide of wonder, gentle interjection, resentment, finally anger. As others enter, their volumes reverse.

What Matt brings with him though is recording equipment. He’s a collector of ambient noise and turns it to music, and to himself. This house, once the grandparents’, somehow hints the dead early boomers have left this legacy to the next generations, who can’t acquire themselves. There’s much submerged commentary like that, and Judd’s masterfully pared extraneous social influences till they’re liminal, hinted, in the keenly-notated west-midlands accents he gives characters.

Matt though thinks the grandparents left something more, obsesses with spooling back what he’s heard. 

The noise level is certainly up when Monica (ex-Eastender Lucy Benjamin) commands attention and brio – a more human Beverley from Abigail’s Party, capable of redemptive sympathy and a deceptively pushy way towards understanding.

Monica certainly finds Matt’s OCD appearance in boxer shorts (shower then bath) amusing: “Did you book the stripper, love?” she asks husband – recovering gambler Jeff (Mark Frost), who doesn’t join her in drinking and can’t find his phone. But the reason he’s mislaid it is in fact more complex than Matt’s discovery of it in the fridge might suggest. Frost imbues Jeff with similar qualities to Jess, though you realise their ties are different but empathic. Frost hovers and pares back his anguish. He’s compelling when silent.

There’s humour, Monica making much of Jeff’s love of little things; Matt’s stark question: ”Do you think Jesus was a mushroom?” And most plangently a continual drift of identity in Jess and Matt. They too readily ascribe it to having no idea who their biological fathers are. Jess’s “Edges. I feel like I’m edges. Like, I can feel my whole outline, but… But there’s nothing else. Nothin’ in the middle” is key. Millward and Baker-Jones are achingly, mutely eloquent.

Jess’s failing liaison with Sarah, her former lecturer at uni, infuriating Monica, substitutes a need for touch to fill the hollow. A touch Jess eloquently dilates on to Matt. ”Touches me like I’m glass, right…. Other times she’s harsh. An’ cold… Cold like this house.” Again, Judd touches his theme in words like “cold”, and the climax is carefully layered.

Judd imbues each character with a convincing, if formulaic obsession, so real themes revolve around the painting of a 1651 model pikeman, finishing a bottle of wine, scrolling through a phone (“a lot” says directions) or of course recording everything – the one obsession not displacement but motive. So obsessive cleaning after long absence from any shower, perhaps (“rank” say his relatives) pops up as Matt’s displacement.

Nevertheless the climax is interestingly wrought: from presence and the living, if in a decidedly disembodied way. It takes time to land after you’ve seen it, and may stay liminal. Judd’s carved an original ground though for conjuring what he does, and it’s unique. He’s also creates characters who refuse to end when the play does: still unresolved to a degree, still urging us to wonder what life, not Judd, will do with them.

Whilst there’s elements that proclaim a first play, it’s one by a major talent with a distinct voice, and the consummate assurance to express it with stamp and precision.