Brighton Fringe 2009
The Lying Kind
New Venture Theatre Productions
Venue: New Venture Theatre
Festival: Brighton Fringe
Two policemen are sent to an elderly couple’s house on Christmas Eve to deliver some bad news, only to get themselves involved in a series of events that delays them and starts them on a journey they will not forget in a hurry.
When the play started, we had absolutely no idea what to expect. Black comedies in general can be tricky to stage. If the lines aren’t delivered well and the performers’ hearts are not fully in the performance, you are very likely to expect a mediocre show. That however is not what happened with the New Venture Theatre’s production of ‘The Lying Kind’ by Anthony Neilson. From the start, George Trotter and Nick Schofield engaged us as Blunt and Gobbel, policemen who have been instructed to deliver the news of a death of a girl called Carol in a car crash. Their witty repartee and chemistry set the tone for what was to be a rollercoaster ride for when hesitation and questioning life’s choices become a hilarious set of consequences. Should they tell the family? Should they leave it? Will it kill them if we do? These questions and bizarre behaviour from the two men challenge and satirise society’s unspoken behaviour – if we took away our ‘stiff upper lip’, would we be left with a raw paranoia that is let off a leash like a dog?
In the opening scene, there were one or two instances where the delivery of the lines became monotonous in tone and screaming drowned out further punch lines, but it was soon forgotten when the play got into full swing. The simple set and lighting created a menacing mood at the beginning showing the dark outside (with a subtle touch of an electric shock from the doorbell when rung!), then just by shifting a door on wheels revealed a warm and homely feel to the family’s living room with brighter lighting and a Christmas tree with presents underneath. This is where the main action took place and what evolved further was crazy, sad, heartfelt and yet totally surreal. We saw an elderly woman with dementia changing characters every time she came on stage, an elderly man with a few secrets of his own and even a vicar who wore stockings and suspenders! All this as well as interference from Gronya – a rough woman on the estate nearby looking for a local paedophile. Mistaken identities, slapstick violence reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy, hiding unconscious people in cupboards and trunks and the additional touch of subtle comedy delivery that set the audience off laughing heartily, whilst feeling for these poor policemen who still haven‘t delivered their bad news. There is even a surprise twist to the end of the play…
Everyone involved with this production performance wise was very strong and kept us guessing all the way through. Louise Gregory as Gronya was a great antagonist from the beginning and portrayed a tough mother from the estate extremely well. Her heavy handed approach really showed a contrast to the hesitating policemen and her one liners (especially ones that were associated with the word PAPS written across her chest) really hit home. Her daughter Carol (Emily Gallichan) was a younger version of her mother. She played a mini version with such vitality and charisma that it really turned the whole saying of ‘Like Mother, Like Daughter’ on its head.
Garson and Balthazar (played beautifully by Sheelagh Baker and Tom Robinson) showed wonderful contrasts to the surrealism by keeping their performances as subtle as possible. This was very sensitively handled as it showed just how dementia could affect relationships, but at the same time, the way it was portrayed by Sheelagh added some light heartedness to the evening’s events by becoming almost childlike in her behaviour when she changed. Her best line was ‘would you like to see my bum?’ Balthazar on the other hand was strong but yet suffering, which again added a lovely contrast to the proceedings.
The real surprise though was Richard Conolly as Reverend Shandy. He took the spotlight when he was about to reveal why the policemen were really here and they wouldn’t let him. Seeing him change from a meek and mild man of the church to a mad man spouting the bible and damning all to hell was a wonderful, refreshing approach to this type of character. It showed dexterity and depth as well as a very interesting feminine side when the stockings and suspenders were revealed! His comedy dance and strip routine with the policemen was a major highlight though – feminity with awkwardness, a wonderful combination.
The company worked together really well as a whole, whether it was individual, teamwork or two handers. Expect a lot of fun, silliness with a festive theme from this production. Highly recommended to watch!