Nuclear War/Buried/Graceland

Anthony Cozens, Graceland (credit Charles Flint Photography) (3)
Photo credit: Charles Flint Photography

Boxless Theatre, Bag of Beard, Grindstone, and Take Two Theatricals have come together to present Nuclear War with Buried and Graceland. The three pieces are all set in very different places, but by virtue of common themes and styles they have been brought together as a triptych at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Buried – David Spencer (dir. Ryan Hutton & Alexander Knott)
Based on writer David Spencer’s father’s experiences during the Second World War, this is a one-man play with a bit of bite. As per the title, a man (Max) finds himself buried; he’s alive but increasingly panicked – understandably so. What we see appears to be his life flashing before his eyes, though broken up by returns to his buried state. As it’s non-linear in its approach it takes a little time to get a bit of a hold on all the different strands of Max’s memories as they move between time and place, but these separate parts do all come together to paint a stark picture of the life this man has lived – and the costs he’ll have to bear. Direction from Knott & Hutton plays with the entire performance space, making this at times quite abstract piece flow as naturally as possible. James Demaine puts everything into his portrayal of Max, grasping the audience’s attention and not letting go until his story has been told.

Graceland – Max Saunders-Singer (dir. Sonnie Beckett & Max Saunders-Singer)
Following a short break we return to the theatre, though we’re now actually members of class 9D. I’m sure at one point or another in our school lives we found ourselves in a disruptive class that certain teachers would find impossible to control – whether you were the quiet swot wishing everyone would just shut up (hello), or the absent troublemaker leaving their grammatically problematic graffiti behind as the only evidence they’d been in school at all that day. It’s a fairly light-hearted beginning, with innuendos and an incredibly giggly front row (at my performance); passing around textbooks and even giving the audience some lines is an ingenious move, as it really makes the scenario feel real – and doesn’t prepare you for the dark turn things are going to take. Mr Chrichton is struggling, massively, and can’t contain it any longer. Anthony Cozens plays the role superbly, a believably harassed teacher at breaking point, though not entirely devoid of a sense of humour; Cozens is just as impressive when the mood switches, his timing and delivery absolutely spot on.

Nuclear War – Simon Stephens (dir. Alexander Knott)
First run at the Royal Court in 2017, Nuclear War has been reimagined as a two-woman show, and is as visual as it is verbal – intensified by movement direction from Georgia Richardson, that almost creates a physical language of its own. There appears to be a vague narrative of sorts running through it, just to provide a little structure, though the themes and individual scenes are what’s important here; death, the sense of time, love, and the prospect of the future all feature. This must all have seemed apt back in the planning stages of this production (however many weeks and months ago that was), but perhaps now it feels even more eerily close to home: “I am going to try as hard as I can not to be a human being.” It’s challenging, but ultimately rewarding – and with engaging and dynamic performances from Zöe Grain and Freya Sharp.

This is a fine collection of plays that fit together to create a gripping, entertaining, and thought-provoking evening. Perfectly ordered to maximise the effect of each individual piece, they all balance out wonderfully well and demonstrate a terrific array of theatrical storytelling.

James Demaine, Buried (Credit Charles Flint Photography) (4)
Photo credit: Charles Flint Photography

My verdict? A theatrical triptych that is thought-provoking as well as entertaining – a well thought out collection that’s excellently performed & directed.

Rating: 4*

Nuclear War runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 21 March 2020. Tickets are available online or from the box office.

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