Thursday, 13 November 2008

Yard Gal - Theatreworld review


Yard Gal By Rebecca Pritchard

Oval House Upstairs 28 Oct – 15 Nov

The Other Side of the World

If there were any justice in the world, this production would be sponsored by Duracell; there’s just such a lot of electricity here. Anyone who cares about the future of theatre really should be getting tickets. Anyone under 30 whose view is that theatre is irrelevant might also like to see what they think of this. Rebecca Pritchard’s Yard Gal contains a near-virtuoso performance by two young actors (both just 22), and won for its writer a Critics’ Circle ‘Most Promising Playwright’ Award. This little epic is by turns touching, violent, funny, alarming and spectacularly amoral. The more tragic the material, the more comedy you must put in, Alan Ayckbourn used to say, and that approach is here in spades. Not that we’re anywhere within a light year of an Ayckbourn world. This is a tale of the exuberant, exultant and purposeless lives of two young women who have left any semblance of moral compass behind them at birth. That we have sympathy for them is really due to theirinstinctive cub-like love for each other, and for their ability to live in and for the moment. They are totally immersed in a search for pleasure and fun, which usually arrives when they are at their most outrageous. The script doesn’t take any prisoners, in terms of morality, values or language, of which more later. About ten minutes in, we’re invited to laugh with the girls as they re-enact a blow job performed on a policeman (I hope I have that right, but the language was tricky to follow early on), which will give you some idea of the territory we’re exploring. There are fights, knives, drugs and death in this rollercoaster ride (‘On the street, you’re either right up, or you’re down there,’ Boo explains) through a hopelessly bleak world. In the course of the play, we’re invited to understand why and how life goes on, and probably stops before you’re 30. Let’s be fair. This won’t be everyone’s idea of a great night out. It is challenging from the momentthe audience walks in to find that there’s no Row F to hide away in. Everyone in the audience in this small black space is well within insulting distance of the two larger than life characters. Boo is played alarmingly by Stephanie di Rubbo; the touchingly excitable Marie by Monsay Whitney, an actor who is blessed with one of the most mobile and expressive faces I’ve seen for a while. It is also played in a remarkable language – the argot of the Hackney street – a dialect that is close to English, but not quite of it, and which does take a bit of time to get used to. Anyone below a certain age though, shouldn’t have too much trouble, I suspect. Director Stef O’Driscoll finds a lot of good ways to use the simple space, but without being obtrusive or mannered (West End directors might like to note that). Paul Stowe’s lighting gives the plain space an intimacy when the production demands it. Weak points? Well, I suppose there were a few. If pushed I wouldn’t imagine Booand Marie exchanging letters for example, and the story within a story idea that wraps up the play seemed a little laboured. But those are really picky little details and come within a 90-minute performance that is remarkable for its completeness. If you are startled by bad language or intimidated by bad behaviour, then this production isn’t for you. It does however make Jimmy Porter (from Look Back in Anger) seem like a rather over-indulged brat, and in doing so, it drags our ideas about disaffected youth into the 21st Century. That it does so with large measures of humour, irony, and sympathy makes it all the more impressive.

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