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FringeReview UK 2023

In the Net

Jermyn Street Theatre with WoLab

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

Venue: Jermyn Street Theatre


Low Down

Directed by Vicky Moran, Set and Costume Designed by Ingrid Hu, Lighting Design Jonathan Chen, Sound Designer Matt Eaton, Video Designer Daniel Denton, Movement Director Nadia Sohawon, Dramaturg Frey Kwa Hawking

Technical Stage Manager Max Juan-Baich, Casting Assistant Aoife Smyth, Programme Designer Ciaran Walsh for Ciwa Design.

Production & Rehearsal Photographer Steve Gregson, PR David Burns

For WoLab Creative Director Alistair Wilkinson, Associate Director Kaleya Baxe, Marketing Consultant Holly Adomah.

Thanks to Anne Bogart, Gemma Barnett, A.A. Brenner, Shireen Farkhoy, Simran Hunjun, Jermyn Street Theatre, Jerwood Space, Hannah Kumari, Tom Littler, India Martin, Adrienne McKenzie, Sarah Meadows, Sue Odell, Punchdrunk, RTYDS, Colm Summers, Rakhee Thakrar, Audrey Thayer, Audrey Sheffield, Lyndsey Turner, the WoLab extended family, John Vernon.

Till February 4th


Two-and-a-half years into the future a grieving family tries fixing its wounds by taking on the planet’s. In Misha Levkov debut play In the Net premiered by Jermyn Street Theatre and directed by Vicky Moran, the backdrop’s climate change; but the corollary, refugees, is what drives a father and two daughters to host a Syrian woman whose husband’s murdered and son’s still out there. From Earthquakes in London back in 2011, we’ve been fed a diet of climate Jeremiads, annually. This one’s different.

JST in partnership with the WoLab scheme promote playwrights like Levkov, who’ve been awarded productions.

With the agency of Laura, (Carla Diamond) whose activist mother Miriam has just died, and elder daughter – by another dead wife -Buddhist Anna (Anya Murphy), Harry (Hywel Simons) might mourn, but he’s pushed aside by the intensity of Laura, who decides in her mother’s Jewish traditions to erect an Eruv across North London: a mixed safe space, and literally create a symbolic net twined around the water-rationed neighbourhood, where all are welcome. Not everyone welcomes it.

Never mind it sounds a tad daft, Levkov’s two vectors of opposition come intriguingly from an Acting Deputy Chair, Councillor Felix Young (the excellent Tony Bell’s second role) who meanders like a fussier Alan Bennet 2 out of The Lady in the Van in proceedings which feature Murphy and Simons in excellent cameo roles as vociferously opposed public. It echoes in miniature something of the energy of the corresponding scene in Francesca Martinez’s magnificent All Of Us. The other – Bell’s menacing Immigration Officer – concerns Hala (Suzanne Ahmet), hosted by the family. Bell’s also the egregious Estate Agent Tremaine.

Ahmet and Levkov indeed invest Hala with real presence and agency. She gravitates to Anna because she’s herself so like Laura – equally determined, equally capable of confrontation, though naturally circumscribed. Hala’s ordeals mostly with the Officer  – alternating with the council scene and quick switching by Bell and spotlighting – might seem familiar. We’ve had a number of plays with women subjected to migrant inquisition: even Katherine, new wife of Henry V in a witty Wanamaker take on the coda to Shakespeare’s play. Catch 22s abound. Ahmet’s dignity works to intensify her simmering rage and refusal to be broken. Her true conflicts are briefer.

For not very good reason Laura becomes possessive of the Eruv when Hala crafts non-Jewish twirls on the tape and twine they’re constructing. More fundamentally, the under-used Harry is pushed further into irrelevance:  Hala’s ”I want things… but not anything you have” seems unduly harsh on Harry where the subtext doesn’t seem sexual. Simons is able to convey the ”not very good as a patriarch” or as Hala says “a decent bloke” with hurt gravitas, but his dynamics with Hala erupt into suddenness without preparation. Nevertheless, Hala’s character – “gratitude’s burnt out of me” – is refreshing and thoroughly welcome. The over-deliberate conflict-points though could do with finessing.

It’s the dynamics of Laura and seraphically subdued Anna – sometimes with Hala – that provide the core energy and show why the play’s perhaps Three Sisters in a climate/population crisis. Their slower pacing when alone is beautifully rendered, and shows a Chekhov wildly signalling to be let out.

Anna’s “motherless” – “sisterful” comes Laura’s response – is the pay-off with a language typically over-rich in a first play, but often lyrically assured. Levkov has his own rhythms, his own flavour, which admittedly can seem awkward when attempting neologisms. The councillor admits “I’m red-pissed at you” and his “Brother” (masonic relationship between the two law-enforcers underscored) admits Felix is more “fore-holding” in dealing with both Eruv and Hala. Stage-directions are peppered neatly with lips “crimped”, a man “skewed”. A little more rigour to alight on the right word and Levkov’s tongue will prove original and hypnotic.

There’s potential Offies here though. One outstanding feature is the lighting. Jonathan Chen’s play of turquoise and rose at key moments in Ingrid Hu’s poetic set is dazzling. But wait for the tracery of lights that make the latter moments of the play as visually compelling in a small theatre as I’ve ever seen. It’s genuinely stunning, aided by Daniel Denton’s video design. Hu’s set helps too. With an upstage play of branches like a Chinese print of bleak beauty, the foreground’s panels of  pearly opalescence glow like rice paper: all semi-transparent doors and lintels, a shield of gossamer-squares and labyrinth of dim gleams.

Acting’s uniformly first-rate. Murphy gets the chance to sound like an entitled 4 x 4 school-run type, and Simons a Jewish local who doesn’t like someone else exploiting Jewish identity for fear of trouble (something the play understandably can’t explore as well). If Simons’ main task is a little thankless, Murphy enjoys some memorable foil moments in sparring with her spirited younger sister (they’re six years apart). “I believe in things that move slowly” the former Buddhist nun tells Laura. Though Levkov pushes her Buddhist identity perhaps a little hard, Murphy inhabits Anna as a believable contrast.

Diamond, making her debut in Laura’s central role, is quite stunning, spinning through Laura with a centripetal energy and brio that’s complete and compelling. She belongs to a bigger play, and she persuades us Laura does too.

Granted Laura has many of the best lines, gratifyingly often from the Ash Sarkar playbook, she’s also invested in the best lyricism. “Like an egg breaking open. An Eruv no-one’s seen before… All in the net together, assembled and alive” which is less forced than Councillor Young’s riposte to a phrase of hers: “I find it insolent and flip. And skanky and fucked” which is probably higher than his metaphor-grade.

Mind you, the Officer at least doesn’t mention Hegel as philosophy graduate Laura does, then (wholly independently) Felix too. Someone edited out a third character referencing Hegel for some thesis-antithesis-synthesis joke.

Levkov’s central conceit the Eruv, really is too gossamer-light to carry conviction as a protest on its own. But rather than dwell on Levkov fighting his own natural tendencies by introducing state conflict, what’s surprising is his not knowing Laura enough to see what she’d do.

Despite the plethora of mobile phones and tracking referenced the obvious media is absent. It’s not just friends like offstage Kate and by direction audience all coming to support the beleaguered protesters that win such battles, but leftish media. Of course others led by the BBC with its cringeworthy “invasion” tropes hardly inspires, but then this play shows much has changed. Laura might flay me, but wargaming outcomes would make this play land far more than elegising at the tops of trees and shaking down raisins on the world.

Levkov might come in for some unfair brickbats, but with a lightly re-jigged video and sound (excellent distance effects from Matt Eaton) a larger canvas, a more raw, immediate engagement might ground In the Net and land it too. Levkov’s good at rapid introduction, a whirligig of different characters, some gestured over the phone, and light on his feet, even if not everything convinces. But see it for its ambition, its occasionally gorgeous language, Offie-worthy lighting and in Diamond, an actor to greet and watch, making I predict one of the most assured debuts of the coming year.