This week shows a definite return to form for theatres, with the world premiere of Alys Metcalf’s Leopards at Rose Theatre, Kingston. It is a slick two-hander, whisking together the modern attitudes of a woke generation with a brooding mystery, desperate to be unravelled.
Seeking the advice of outgoing charity CEO Ben, Niala finally snags a meeting with him at a London hotel. As they sip their champagne, Niala and Ben face the clear chemistry between them as their mentoring meeting unfolds into something more sensual. All the while a menacing storm closes in around them, foreshadowing darker dealings for the pair.
Lighting Designer Colin Grenfell has hung rods of light above the vast single-walled stage, dangling like a chandelier. From a central cluster, they thin out towards the edge of the stage, lighting independently like a crackle of lightning across the theatre. Not only does this effect help to realise the engrossing storm that builds during the opening scene, but it also draws the audience into the drama of the scene, with the visceral feeling of the storm around us adding to the apparent tension. The hotel bar set by Lily Arnold quickly defines the characters’ space, whilst giving it an elegant yet dated feel to complement the history in the text.
With these design elements setting the scene, it would be difficult not to get immediately immersed into the performance from the off. Saffron Coomber and Martin Marquez begin the play with a silky delivery, a to and fro that I could listen to for hours. They take on the text with an instant vivacity that they succeed in maintaining until the final beat of the play. Marquez brings a consistently kind and commanding presence to the stage which he plays with a clear truth throughout, whilst Coomber delivers a dexterous performance as the enticingly complex Niala, shifting and changing like a shadow, her intentions never truly clear.
Director Christopher Haydon’s strength here lies in the heightened naturalism he creates, making the smallest look resonate like a ripple and subtly growing the intimacy on stage. Using the intensity of the subtext, he keeps momentum in even the stillest moments of the play, adding natural movement with organic blocking, and never being afraid to simply let the characters be.
Leopards ties together themes of consent, sexuality, power, feminism, philosophy, sustainability, and honesty – and yet it never feels belligerent. With the wit and sensibility of a generational comedy, Metcalf starts Leopards by giving us the time to fall in love with the characters, making them the just the right amount of likeable in their gentle flirting. She writes this pair as though each were a mirror, reflecting what we expect but hiding something else behind the glass – a Stepford Housewife. As she plays more and more into the genre of the piece, Metcalf expertly changes course on the audience several times, building drama through the unexpected choices.
In flipping the narrative, this production sets a clear footprint in the sand of a swiftly changing world. As the old ways are washed away, our expectations of others become a thing of the past and we must finally see things for what they are.
Leopards is now playing at Rose Theatre until 25 September. For more information and to book tickets, visit Rose Theatre’s Website.