Before I begin the review proper I would just like to say that it is good to be back at the Leeds Playhouse as it is now known. I am pleased to report that there is a new street level entrance at the front with a lift to take you to the appropriate auditorium or the other facilities, and bags of leg room between the rows of seats. The acoustics are also much improved and so one old man was made very happy.
The play, One Under by Winsome Pinnock, is the first in a series of three during the month of November which are aimed at men and delve into their health and wellbeing with emphasis on the mental aspect. This sounds a bit morose but it was more like one of those mysteries when you are presented with an event, the route to which is told in flashbacks, and the denouement occurring some time after the incident illustrating its consequences. I am being deliberately vague here as there are lots of red herrings along the way and it would be easy to introduce a spoiler without realising. There is also no lack of humour, especially in the scenes between Sonny and Christine. What I can say, though, is that the play opens with a conversation between a tube train driver, Cyrus, who has just had a man jump to his death in front of his engine, and a colleague to whom this has happened on several occasions and who was imparting words of advice as to how to deal with the situation. There then followed a succession of scenes in which the relationships between the jumper – Sonny, his sister – Zoe, her mother – Nella and the woman who works in the local dry cleaners – Christine. The action I found to be a little confusing as there were lots of scene changes and as the set was basically a wooden arch with shelves and a couple of benches it took a while, and a few not so subtle hints, to realise where we were. At one point I didn’t know whether we were in Sonny’s flat or a swanky hotel. There was also a mysterious minder, who was never seen, but who seemed suddenly to acquire the name Mr Walker which threw me for a minute or two.
In addition to the narrative of the play there were questions raised as to whether the people we were seeing were in fact the real people or their perceptions of who they were. Some misconceptions were understandable but others delusional. Once again there is too much scope for spoilers to delve more deeply.
Finally there was the question of the way in which we perceive people who are willing to do something for us without wanting any reward. Do they always have an ulterior motive or can they be genuinely altruistic?
I have to say that I really enjoyed this play in spite of the myriad scene changes and time shifts, a format far more suited to television. My enjoyment was also helped by the inclusion of a couple of screens displaying the dialogue for those with hearing difficulties. Although my hearing is not too bad it was good to be able to glance up now and again if I didn’t quite catch a word. Sadly there were a couple of glitches in this department but they were soon rectified. I only hope that it didn’t spoil the production for those who were totally reliant on it.
The acting was universally good and the relationships between the characters carried a fair amount of chemistry. It would be unfair to single out any of them for special praise so I will just list them and congratulate en bloc. The direction has been covered as has the set design so I will just mention the sound, which was crystal clear, and lighting which was subtly done seemingly only using the dimming of the lights and the odd colour. Sometimes less is more. If this is a sample of what is to come in the new theatre then the investment has been more than worthwhile. Speaking of what is to come, please see my preview posting on the other two plays in the season.
In order not to omit anyone, or any organisation involved in this production I have taken the liberty of attaching a copy of the handout given to the theatre-goers which I hope does not break any copyright laws.
Feature photograph Stanley J Browne & Reece Pantry, One Under, photo Patrick Baldwin.