Don’t Let it Pass you By

Arion Productions Ltd presents Passing By by Martin Sherman at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Passing By begins, deceptively, with a one-night stand.  A one-night stand that turns into eight weeks and becomes the substance of the play.  Thrown together by circumstances, the two main characters have intensive intimacy forced upon them, which leads to both comic moments and personal revelations.  It is almost like a bubble of unreality, in which normal life is suspended for a period of time.  Naturally, all such bubbles eventually burst.

Toby and Simon meet at the cinema, and then return to Toby’s apartment.  Simon has just arrived in New York from Miami Beach.  The following morning we hear that Toby is about to leave for Paris, so their relationship seems doomed to be a brief one.  Nevertheless, Simon turns up at Toby’s place of work (a wine shop) several days later, and a subsequent discovery of mutual illness, coupled with the fact that Simon has nowhere else to stay, causes them to nurse each other back to health over the next 8 weeks.

This is a well-written, carefully-structured, balanced play.  It has overtones of the type of New York humour found in Woody Allen or Neil Simon, and the contrast between James Cartwright’s portrayal of Olympic diver Simon, and Rik Makarem’s New York Jew Toby adds to the richness of the mix.  Simon is laid-back, confident, physically fit and has never had a day’s illness in his life (until now), whereas Toby is nervous, neurotic and seemingly hypochondriac at the start of the play.

Both actors filled their roles extremely well.  I couldn’t fault the accents, and James Cartwright’s initially relaxed Simon was a good foil to Rik Makarem’s anxious Toby.  However, it was as the play progressed and the roles reversed that the actors came into their own, and the interplay between them was excellent.  The juxtaposition of characters was what made the play, and, to me, was reminiscent of many wonderful similar stories: The Odd Couple; Prick Up Your Ears and even Ernie and Bert!

The resemblance to both the Joe Orton story and the Sesame Street roommates was enhanced by the set (presumably designed by Philip Lindley).  The majority of the play is set in Toby’s bedroom/kitchenette, which is a very good simulation of a 1970s room, with nylon bedspreads, padded headboards and an old-style black dial telephone.  The only false note was a television remote control of a type not in common use until the early 90s – a bit of an anachronism for 1972.  The three other short scenes – in the wine shop; at the cinema; on a bench – were very cleverly fitted into the main set.

The interesting thing about watching a play which was actually written in the early 70s, rather than one written today looking back at the period, is that there is no benefit of hindsight.  There is no dramatic irony, apart from that which the audience themselves experience, and the writer had no knowledge of the vast changes which were to take place in the lives of gay men in New York and elsewhere over the next couple of decades.  This gives a purity to the piece, almost as if we were looking through a window in time and space, that you just don’t get with retrospective writing.  For this, and for many other reasons, I would recommend you catch this play – as it is passing by.

Passing by is at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden until 30th November, nightly at 7.30, tickets £14 (£12 concessions).  For booking or more information visit www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk or telephone 020 7240 6283.  Photos by Scott Rylander.

Mary Tynan

Passing By

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Belfast Girl: A Love Story

As it’s now less than two weeks till opening night, I wanted to let everyone know about Belfast Girl: A Love Story, from London Irish Theatre.

Set in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, Belfast Girl: A Love Story considers the human dimension of the Northern Ireland question, and uncovers the personal costs of political struggle.  Annie is the Belfast Girl of the title: a working class protestant who grew up during the troubles.  Her marriage to Orangeman Billy is on the rocks, and an unexpected visit from English Catholic Dave, her childhood sweetheart who she hasn’t seen since her teens, brings matters to a head in an explosive manner.  The play is written and directed by John Dunne, and features Mary Tynan (me) as Annie and Ian Macnaughton as Dave.

The story of Dave and Annie has been through several incarnations over the years.  The first, titled Belfast, premiered in the 1990s and featured the couple as teenagers, with Tanya Franks as Annie.  I become involved during the second incarnation, Belfast Boy, which was written to be the second play in a double bill with Geraldine Aron’s A Galway Girl, touring in 2009/10.  This was a two hander, with the older Annie and Dave meeting again after many years.  Belfast Girl followed in the summer of 2010, and I played Annie for the second time in a completely new work which also featured Annie’s brother and husband.  This play has recently had a Belfast run, in which the story was expanded to include two further characters.

Belfast Girl: A Love Story returns to the two-handed format, but with a twist.  There may be only two actors, but there are more than two characters!  I’m really looking forward to playing Annie again, and would like to invite readers of Notes From Xanadu to join the audience.  Previous versions Belfast and A Belfast Boy have both received critical acclaim from the press, and Belfast was a Time Out Critic’s Choice.

“John Dunne’s sensitive squint at the Ulster legacy adapts well to the stage.  What’s impressive about the rapid stucco of tense, bite-sized scenes is that they’re eloquently counterpointed by a driving commitment to character development.”  Time Out

“A sharply realistic play still willing to speak for love, however guarded, as the central human value.” City Limits

 “Fantastically gripping.”  What’s On

 “Moving stories in an Irish odyssey.”  Camden New Journal

Belfast Girl: A Love Story is playing on both sides of the Thames this Summer.  It opens on 20August 2013 at the London Theatre, New Cross, running nightly at 8pm until 24 August, with a Sunday matinee on 25 August at 4pm.  It then runs from 27 to 29 August nightly at 7.30pm at the Babble Jar, Stoke Newington and from 30 August to 1 September at the Precinct Theatre, Islington, with all performances there also at 7.30pm.  Tickets can be bought on the door, from the London Theatre Box Office (www.thelondontheatre.com), and from www.irish-theatre.com .

Belfast Girl: A Love Story

 

To Resolve or Determine

Most people are familiar with the concept of New Year’s Resolutions, and the problems associated with sticking to them.  Before the smoking ban, it used to be common in night spots throughout the British Isles to see people smoking their “last cigarette” at 5 minutes to midnight, only to hear them say “I’ll start in the morning” less than an hour later.  Gym membership soars in January every year as does membership of slimming clubs, and I would imagine hypnotherapists see an upturn in business as well.

On the other hand, certain Buddhist sects have a practice of setting determinations for the year.  This is similar to goal setting in that it is a list of what you determine to achieve during the next twelve months.  This could be anything from passing an exam to having a baby and is not necessarily something you can achieve solely by your own efforts (although it can be).

However hard they may be to stick to though, resolutions are at least under your own control – as long as you have the necessary willpower.  You might not be able to ensure you drop two dress sizes, but you can stick to the diet; running every day is possible, but you won’t necessarily make the four-minute mile; and filling in job applications will certainly increase your chances of (but not guarantee) getting one, but chance is the operative word.  Determinations and goals are different.  Whilst God certainly helps those who help themselves, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, and writing 5,000 words a day won’t necessarily get me my own comedy show.  Alternatively, the reverse is also true.  To spout another cliché: if you don’t know where you want to go, how can you work out how to get there?

So have I made resolutions or determinations for 2013?  Both.  Resolutions because I believe in myself, and determinations because I believe in the universe.  My resolutions include regular yoga, certain dietary modifications, and climbing Croagh Patrick.  And my determinations?  To make all my dreams come true.

Re-examination Pays Dividends

New Possibilities: Abstract Paintings from the Seventies at the Piper Gallery

This exhibition presents the work of artists whose work became less fashionable during the 1970s with the rise of conceptual and performance art.  While these artists are still working today, most of the work on display is from this period.  This is a very diverse exhibition: all of the artists have very individual styles.  However, a common feature is an attention to craft, precision and formal values in painting.

The range of approaches is very clear when you compare the work of Tess Jaray and Frank Bowling.  Tess’ Alhambra (1979) is deceptively simple at first glance, but closer examination draws the viewer in and reveals the surprising complexity hidden in what you believe to be predictable pattern.  What at first appears to be a repetitive motif, on closer observation shows itself to have complex variation in colour, form and scale.  Frank Bowling’s Rush Green (1977) seems to be more the sum of its parts.  His deployment of paint by pouring it directly onto the canvas and utilising flow may seem haphazard, but on inspection the result is more mysterious.  There appears to be an equivalence with art from the past – for example, Monet’s paintings of the garden at Giverney – sustained attention is rewarded.

William Henderson and Barrie Cook both use a particular vocabulary to produce very different results.  Henderson’s Funky, Blackand Catch Me (1978) creates a feeling of depth and jaggedness, with a definite sense of illusionistic space, reminding one of the microscopic world when magnified.  Cook’s Blue, Red and Yellow Grid (1977) is an optical work which plays with the eyes.  It is reminiscent of cathode ray tubes warming up in a old-fashioned television.  There is a richness in the fact that the two paintings, both using repetitive linear forms, can produce such varied results.

Other highlights of the exhibition include Gary Wragg’s Carnival (1977-79), which is driven by the process of drawing; Patricia Poullain’s Untitled (1973), which has a lightness and openness whose accessibility reminds one of a childhood telescope; and finally, Trevor Sutton’s measured, well proportioned That Swing.4.K (1979) combines electric blue and black, demarcated by a delicate green line.  The piece is poised and balanced and seems to be very much of its time.

If you like your paintings to repay prolonged attention, then New Possibilities at the Piper Gallery is definitely worth a visit.

New Possibilities: Abstract Paintings from the Seventies is at The Piper Gallery, 18 Newman Street, W1T 1PE from 16 November to 21 December

Mary Tynan and Ian MacNaughton

(Pictures courtesy of the artists and The Piper Gallery)