×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Double Feature 1

Lyricist Hal David is rarely cited as a dramaturgical authority, but when it comes to one-act plays it's worth clocking his lyric: "Knowing when to leave may be the smartest thing that anyone can learn."

With:
Nick - Trytstan Gravelle
Marianne - Kirsty Bushell
Miller - Damian O'Hare
Tara - Karina Fernandez
Marc - Tom Basden
Anthony - Richard Goulding
Claire - Phoebe Fox
Jim - Trevor Cooper
Denise - Pippa Bennett-Warner
Russell - Richard Hope
Grace/Amy - Claire-Louise Cordwell
Bradwell - Nitin Kundra
Charistine - Sharon Duncan-Brewster

Lyricist Hal David is rarely cited as a dramaturgical authority, but when it comes to one-act plays it’s worth clocking his lyric: “Knowing when to leave may be the smartest thing that anyone can learn.” As the first of two National Theater double-bills by emerging dramatists proves, judging the scope and length for a short play is tough. D.C. Moore’s punchy “The Swan” drains itself of energy before the end, but Sam Holcroft’s shapely and auspicious “Edgar and Annabel” grows stronger by the minute and leaves auds wanting more.

Smooth professional twentysomething Marianne (Kirsty Bushell) is preparing dinner in her anodyne kitchen but from the second her partner Nick (Trystan Gravelle) arrives, it’s clear something’s amiss. When he produces scripts from his briefcase so they can continue their post-work banter, puzzlement grows.

At first it looks as if Holcroft is simply re-playing the absurdist “we’re only actors” game, but it swiftly becomes clear her use of play-acting has serious narrative intent.Marianne and Nick are consciously performing for a reason. In a recognizable very near future, not unlike Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” their house is wired for sound by unseen authorities. While pretending to be happy couple Edgar and Annabel, Nick and Marianne are actually political freedom fighters communicating with each other by looks and signs while speaking words the authorities expect to hear.

Holcroft exploits the gap between what is spoken and what’s happening beneath with real zest. Few writers would have the comic audacity to create a scene in which characters secretly and seriously make bombs under the cover of everyone taking turns to sing pumped-up cheesy power-ballads in home karaoke.

She also resists overstatement. The only depiction of the world outside comes via scenes with their controller Miller (Damian O’Hare). But Holcroft ratchets up tension via slips-up caused by the strain of keeping everything secret. The big surprise, however, is that beneath the sci-fi-meets-politics surface, there’s real emotional resonance not just in Bushell’s increasingly frightened performance, but throughout Lyndsey Turner’s crisply played production.

Moore also explores undercurrents in “The Swan,” which takes its name from the seriously run-down local pub that’s to host a wake.

In common with most “after the funeral” dramas, secrets come tumbling out via mouthy characters whose ability to swear (often highly inventively) makes David Mamet sound like a maiden aunt. Moore is intent upon creating characters mostly on a permanent roll of resentment and anger, but who tend to engage brain only after speaking, their loudness pointing up their inarticulacy.

But although there’s trouble brewing for Pippa Bennett-Warner’s sweet but thoughtful Denise about her newly departed stepfather, the revelations don’t add resonance. That’s partly because they come by way of the release of information withheld by the writer in overly convenient fashion via a rediscovered mobile phone.

Polly Findlay’s production in the National’s Paintframe workshop space has authenticity, not least because of Soutra Gilmour’s superbly versatile design, which changes from an end-on staging for Holcroft’s play into Moore’s perfectly grimy pub during the intermission. Yet despite the setting and acting, the second hour-long drama drags because its shape is thematic rather than dramatic.

Popular on Variety

Double Feature 1

Paintframe, National Theater, London; 164 seats; £20 $33 top

Production: A National Theater presentation of a double-bill of "Edgar and Annabel" by Sam Holcroft directed by Lyndsey Turner and "The Swan" by D.C. Moore directed by Polly Findlay.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Soutra Gilmour; lighting, James Farncombe; sound, Carolyn Downing; music, Ben Castle and Matthew Herbert; production stage manager, David Marsland. Opened, reviewed Aug. 3, 2011. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN. "Edgar and Annabel" "The Swan"

Cast: Nick - Trytstan Gravelle
Marianne - Kirsty Bushell
Miller - Damian O'Hare
Tara - Karina Fernandez
Marc - Tom Basden
Anthony - Richard Goulding
Claire - Phoebe Fox
Jim - Trevor Cooper
Denise - Pippa Bennett-Warner
Russell - Richard Hope
Grace/Amy - Claire-Louise Cordwell
Bradwell - Nitin Kundra
Charistine - Sharon Duncan-Brewster

More Legit

  • Laurel Griggs

    Laurel Griggs, Broadway and 'SNL' Actress, Dies at 13

    Laurel Griggs, who starred in Broadway’s “ONCE the Musical” as Ivanka, has died. She was 13. An obituary posted to Dignity Memorial indicates she died on Nov. 5, and Griggs’ grandfather wrote on Facebook that her death was due to a massive asthma attack. Griggs made her Broadway debut when she was six years old [...]

  • West End celling collapse

    Ceiling Collapse at 'Death of a Salesman' Leads to Theater Closure, Boycott Threats

    The West End revival of “Death of a Salesman” has moved into a temporary space after parts of the ceiling of Piccadilly Theatre collapsed during a Wednesday night performance. Five audience members sustained minor injuries and were taken to area hospitals. The theater will remain closed for the rest of the week. In the meantime, [...]

  • Tina review

    Broadway Review: 'Tina'

    “Now, that’s what I call a Broadway show!” That’s what the stranger sitting next to me at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater yelled into my ear at the roof-raising finale of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” I’d say he nailed it. Call “Tina” a jukebox musical or a bio-musical or anything you want to call it, but [...]

  • Cyrano review Peter Dinklage

    Off Broadway Review: 'Cyrano' Starring Peter Dinklage

    It’s pride and not panache that drives this overly spare and gloomy musical adaptation of that classic tale of unrequited love and honor, “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Despite a mesmerizing performance by Peter Dinklage, hot off “Game of Thrones,” and a haunting score by members of the band The National, this “Cyrano” is so reductive — [...]

  • Armie Hammer

    Armie Hammer, Jessie Mueller to Star in Broadway Production of Tracy Letts' 'The Minutes'

    Armie Hammer and Jessie Mueller will lead the cast of “The Minutes,” the Broadway production of a new play by Tracy Letts. The play seems tailor-made for these politically polarized times. It dissects a particularly contentious city council meeting, one in which the hypocrisy, greed, and ambition of various community members bubbles up to the [...]

  • Lightning Thief Broadway musical

    Listen: How 'The Lightning Thief' Creators Aim to Diversify Broadway

    “The Lightning Thief” doesn’t look like most Broadway musicals. And according to its creators, that’s a good thing. Listen to this week’s podcast below: After all, the musical based on Rick Riordan’s hit series of YA novels can count itself as one of a number of new shows (“Slave Play,” “Be More Chill”) that are [...]

  • Susan Stroman Lear DeBessonet

    CAA Signs Theater Veterans Susan Stroman, Lear deBessonet (EXCLUSIVE)

    CAA has signed two major forces in theater. The agency has picked up Lear deBessonet, founder of Public Works and resident director at the Public Theater, and Susan Stroman, the Tony-winning director of “The Producers” as clients, Variety has learned. DeBessonet, who was previously represented by UTA, recently directed the world premiere of “Hercules,” marking [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content