In a city saturated with theatre, how do you go about selecting what you see? More to the point, how do you go about seeing something which is a) value of money whilst by) delivering high quality theatre? Naturally we rely upon the most prominent of theatres to deliver this to us, but as I discovered, sometimes the best of the theatre can be found in the most unlikely of places.
Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star by James McLure are being presented as the theatre debut of Madison Theatre Company, a young and vibrant company who ‘aim to tell great stories in some unlikely spaces’, well they certainly don’t lie – a function room in a basement of a hotel is hardly where I expected to see such a talented group of performers deliver an outstanding night of theatre.
I actually can’t remember the last time I felt such an electric performance by a new theatre company in such a small space. The Brook Green Hotel basement is the most unlikely place I expected to see such high quality drama, but if Madison Theatre Company keep it up, I might just be coming back for more.
James McLure an unknown writer here in the UK has in his two short one act comedies created an essence of what life is like in suburban America. In Laundry and Bourban we see Elizabeth (played by Claire Lyons) and Hattie (played by Charlie Walker-McClimens) going about their daily lives on a back porch attempting to survive under the heat of the sun.
McLure’s text is wonderfully written that without much effort we are transported instantly into the lives of these two characters. Both Lyons and Walker-McClimens under the direction of Rob Watt are every bit of the housewives they portray. From the folding of clothes, to the constant playing with their hair and dresses to cool themselves in the heat – they represent everything about American wives with wonderfully simple acting.
Despite the story revolving around Elizabeth it is clear that Walker-McClimens reigns supreme as Hattie. Her flapping and frolicking around the small stage space brings the brilliant comedy to life. Watt’s direction allows for her to portray a busy housewife with children who are causing chaos on the other end of the telephone brilliantly.
What is so delightful in Laundry and Bourbon is the sheer elegant acting with the McLures text. Lyons’ Elizabeth is controlled and grounded, hinting not only to the humour of her life but of the tragedy towards her husbands sleeping with other women. Lyons is captivating and twists the direction of the story with the developments in her character, in one case, her pregnancy, with ease and coolness. Notable praise is also justly called to Annabel Topham as the slightly pompous but completely out of her depth, Amy Lee.
Contrasting completely to Laundry and Bourbon comes Lone Star, this time portraying the male counterparts to the females in the first story. Whilst the story isn’t as well developed as the first half, Lone Star makes the whole night at the Brook Green Hotel a treat of a night, and confirmed my initial suspicion that Madison Theatre Company are to a troupe to keep a firm eye on for they are going to be bursting into the fringe scene with energy worthy of the west end.
Back from Vietnam we see the drunken figure of Roy (Terence Burns) discussing life, his war experiences and his most highly treasured thing in the world…. no not his wife Elizabeth, but his car to his brother Ray (Charlie Carter). This brotherly pair put the world to right, if a little simply over a few bottle of beers and the stars above them. Carter as the simple minded Ray is wonderful, capturing every detail about a juttering man not quite confident nor sound of mind. In contrast Burns as Roy is the masculine alter-ego of his brother, he is firm, controlling and in the intimate space of the stage he is scarily violent.
As Cletis the husband to Amy Lee, Liam Bewley is wonderful, complete with enormous sweat patches under his arm, his confession that he has both stolen and crashed Roy’s car is comical and tragic. Yet it is nothing compared to the reaction that Burns gives as his character finds out Ray has been sleeping with his wife multiple times. Lone Star suddenly becomes electric – the small audience gasp in disbelief then slowly there is an uncomfortable silence before the rage is delivered in violence. Simply superb theatre!
Rob Watt directing Madison Theatre Company’s first performance has allowed for a subtle yet completely compelling and magical creation of American lives portrayed through theatre to take place within such a small space. It is wholly believable and even the out of place plasma screen on the wall of the function room doesn’t break for the outstanding direction and unraveling of narration and story.
My only hope is to see that this work of sheer brilliance gets the audience it deserves and I, for one will be eagerly waiting for the next adventure of this truly remarkable group of performers.
Laundry and Bourbon, and Lone Star as part of the theatre debut of Madison Theatre Company performed at the Brook Green Hotel 5th – 8th May. For more information on Madison Theatre Company, see their website. Photos by Hermano Silva, see more at www.thegentleman.com.br