Our dignified National Theatre lets its hair down in the summer, decking its exterior with astroturf and zany free theatre. So it’s great to see it finally channelling that makeshift spirit into new writing, with ‘Double Feature’, four new plays presented in two double-bills in the vast ‘Paintframe’– usually a scene-docking space, now a cool pop-up theatre and bar.
Sam Holcroft and DC Moore, the most established talents of the four, have come up with the goods for their shows, which go out under the umbrella title ‘Double Feature 1’.
Holcroft, whose suspenseful sense of dramatic rhythm and sheer versatility put her at the head of the new writing brat pack, offers the tensely funny ‘Edgar and Annabel’, a study of scripted life in a surveillance state. The plot’s charge and impact depends on explosive spoilers; suffice to say, it’s Orwellian, but with computers, comedy and a farcical karaoke machine.
Holcroft’s state doesn’t entirely stand up to scrutiny but it prompts intriguing questions about the extent to which our own lives, loves and assumptions are scripted by our circumstances. It also pokes highly original fun at the theatre and benefits from fine naturalistic performances from Trystan Gravelle, Kirsty Bushell and Damian O’Hare.
After the interval, we file past Edgar and Annabel’s Ikea kitchen into the litter-strewn morning-after devastation of a grotty boozer called ‘The Swan.’ Above, a pregnant chain-smoking 1940s chanteuse (the extraordinary Claire-Louise Cordwell) croons a tune into a microphone then disappears, like the melancholy spirit of the house. Downstairs her son Jim (the excellent, bearishly middle-aged Trevor Cooper), has arrived for a morning pint, in flight from his
own son’s funeral.
DC Moore is the laureate of disappointed blokes in boozers and Jim is one of his most accurate, compassionate inventions: a man whose filthy jokes and world-weary insights float like debris on the surface of his patter, whose undercurrent is sadness.
The glancing banter between Jim and nice-but-dim Tory pub-regular Russell (Richard Hope, superb) is the most original thing in ‘The Swan’. It’s a tougher twist on the Queen Vic, which is accurate despite the conventional slanging matches and the veneer of beer-goggles-sentimentality.
A miscast Sharon Duncan-Brewster helps dilute an already soggy ending. It doesn’t dampen the energy of this double bill, which brings a fun new space and two unmissable young voices to the South Bank.