FringeReview UK 2017
Mike Bartlett’s 2010 Earthquakes in London directed by Steven Adams hums with a versatile set by Tom Williams where domestic life is foregrounded so three scenarios work simultaneously to Chris Smith’s ever-changing projections lit by Beverley Grover.
It helps that Georgina Robinson’s choreography pinpoints two great numbers. Craig Flint flicks on Coldplay with the lights. Eleanor Medhurst, Margarita Steinberg, and Natasha Gatwood are responsible for the dazzling costumes array, and Stephen Evans’ stage management deserves special mention on this tiny stage with fifteen cast members rapidly dissolving and apparating. Till August 26th at BLT, then at Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT) August 30th-September 2nd
In his 2010 epic Earthquakes in London Mike Bartlett turns his talents inside out. Known for creating intricate steel traps, as in Contractions, Bull or most recently King Charles III, in this work he almost reverses his characteristics. Several traps are set: more often they’re sprung.
The carbon whirligig of time really does bring in its revenges in this Wurtlitzer of a play where everyone seems to be drinking to make up for the heat. To a picaresque whizz of scene changes handled nearly seamlessly, characters bounce off the walls of global warming, love and denial around three daughters and a long-estranged father, a perfect nuclear index of friction.
It helps that Georgina Robinson’s choreography pinpoints two great numbers with a chorus of male sunbathers on Hampstead Heath and a Yummy Mummy quartet exuding privilege with their babies destined for hedge-fund managing or surgeons’ roles. Craig Flint flicks on Coldplay with the lights: the zeitgeist hasn’t shifted in the seven years since Earthquakes conga’d round the then NT Cottesloe. Themes and arguments remain fresh.
This production directed by Steven Adams hums with a versatile set by Tom Williams where domestic life with mint dressers, yellow walls and scarlet-and-puce sofas is foregrounded so three scenarios work simultaneously to Chris Smith’s ever-changing projections lit by Beverley Grover.
For a while there’s a parallel recent history and 2012, with a hallucinatory future coda. A 1968 seduction prologue shows the younger Robert (Tom Cunningham) a Cambridge PhD student seduced by future wife Grace (Faye Woodbridge) as he proposes how everything might be getting hotter. Grace suggests she really is hot. We’re then stuck in 1973 as Robert’s financially seduced by a faintly sinister ‘biggest British airline’: eighteen years of denying his own findings but then, unlike Bartlett’s other work, Robert jumps – everything for solitude in Scotland with single malts and a housekeeper.
Robert’s essentially a James Lovelock character, the man who advanced the Gaia and Daisyworld theories, whose predictions till recently included predicting 80% of humanity would be wiped by 2100. Lovelock’s modified this stance but as we find the older Robert (Mike Skinner) is so intransigent he tells his unstable heavily pregnant middle daughter Freya – who’s journeyed to meet him – she’d be best off doing something drastic. Mandy-Jane Jackson baffles and flummoxes her trauma superbly through encounters with an autistic ex-pupil. Charlotte Atkinson’s screwed-facials Peter springs his or her own surprises.
Skinner explodes with a suddenly pronounced Scottish accent his younger Cunningham self doesn’t possess, though Bill Patterson who originated the elder role clearly does. There’s a disconnect too in Bartlett’s writing. The pliable ingénue so winningly portrayed by Cunningham gives no hint of his later acerbic mix of Sherlock-meets-Captain-Nemo, pinpointing everything hapless about Leigh Ward’s frantic Steve, Freya’s husband who’s taken off to beard the revered, feared recluse. As Mrs Andrews, Ann Atkins provides a droll foil in the ‘ye’ll have had yer tea’ mode, suffering Skinner’s jibes and Ward’s jumpiness with an equal roll of the eyes.
Whilst Freya evades Steve and sisters on a zig-zag via hospital dogged by Peter, we’re treated to the sisters who interact uneasily: Tess Gill’s bluntly efficient, painfully wrought Sarah, Lib-Dem environment secretary about to sell out to expediency. And the youngest: Keziah Israel’s feisty funny Jasmine, kicked out of university and using Nik Balfe’s tub-thump Tom her one-night to blackmail Sarah into goodness.
The family have a knack of resisting traps, indeed Sarah’s journey involves responding to the same corporate blandishments tried on her father. Frankie Knight’s Jane oozes stick then Chablis-and-carrot, and Gill’s stature resides in evoking sympathy for this hard-bitten embittered forty-year-old who risks everything and still fears losing Paul Morley’s redundant Colin, hilariously taken out of himself by Jasmine.
Israel’s spiky spark of Jasmine is naturally a gift, and Israel makes the most of it, including her burlesque and a touching moment when her father meeting her for the first time declares she’s the one he would have got on with. Skinner and Israel manage a fragile recognition here, and in a play sacrificing veiled nuance to velocity it’s doubly welcome.
There’s some memorable cameos, notably Mimi Godard two of whose roles, as Liberty who loves working for Liberty, and Polar Bear on Waterloo Bridge are quietly treasurable. Stephen Evans and Josie Durand when away from stage managing, and others of the fifteen cast members divide the sixty-five named roles in this big dipper ride into the future that can’t get off. That is until the extended coda projected into 2525 (the avatar of that 1971 pop song) and 2028.
This play’s a baggy monster originally running well over three hours, which Adams with judicious cuts has made manageable. With the cast he’s made more sense, even truth of its chaos collisions than even Rupert Goold’s original production. The integrity of the writing is kept: nothing’s notably removed. For many seeing the original the last twenty minutes seemed either impossibly sentimental or lucubrated, tacked on. It’s more acceptable here. And more touching.
Eleanor Medhurst, Margarita Steinberg, and Natasha Gatwood are responsible for the dazzling costumes array, and Stephen Evans’ stage management deserves special mention on this tiny stage with fifteen cast members rapidly dissolving and apparating.
Cast and crew are beyond praise. It’s quite possibly the finest production of this huge, skirling ride of a play that’s ever been mounted. Outstanding.