Tag Archives: Vicky Featherstone

Review Cyprus Avenue The Royal Court by Hannah Goslin


We enter a small but perfectly formed room with a low level traverse stage. Completely white and clinical there is nothing in the room but the audience areas and 2 chairs in one corner of the square carpeted staging, and one chair diagonally in the other with a small table containing a jug of water and a glass. Very minimalist, the area is open to the unfolding of absolutely anything.

Based in Belfast, we meet Eric played by Stephen Rea who is well known for recent television programmes such as War and Peace and Dickensian, and his counsellor Bridget played by Wunmi Mosaku, who sit the furthest opposite each other as they can be. The story unfolds from the point of view of Eric reminiscing past events that have lead him to this current situation. We begin with the simple sense that the man needs help and this is all it is. As the hour or so passes, his insanity becomes even more palpable and chaotic leading to actions and events that are dark and for the audience, shocking.

The play cleverly plays on cultural, emotional, political and religious identity. The main concept is of the Catholic and Protestant war and prejudice in Ireland. Eric representing the North consistently professes that he doesn’t hate Catholics or the South, yet his rants and racist wordings express otherwise. Cleverly, the use of a black character in the counsellor highlights the sheer ridiculous nature of Eric in feeling these ways – unintentionally relating to African and black culture in a racist manner, the counsellor turns this around to show that there is no difference in cultures if they were to go simply by his description. With the state of theatre at the moment looking into the diversity of actors, Wunmi Mosaku’s character has the most brilliant line noting that she is not African, she is British. Being born and bred in Britain, this is her identity and this, intentionally or not, pokes attention to the current theatrical world and its lack of diversity and the absurdity of this. Just as Eric is Irish despite being in the North, and Mosaku’s Character Bridget is British and not African, the casting of characters should be based on their talent and not based on their race, ability, gender or orientation. It is no one’s business what you are, but what you can bring to the table, which Bridget points out is wrong with Eric’s stereotypical view of the world.

The writing of the play is so intelligent, that a lot of comedy comes from the irony of the situations but along with the actor’s brilliant portrayal, the sense of timing and take on the words makes the majority of the production extremely funny.

This is what makes the slow building crescendo even more shocking. Eric’s mental state deteriorates more and more over the hour to lead to a huge case of seeing red and committing horrendous atrocities. The well-constructed violence in production is so realistic that writing this review and remembering this still makes me queasy. The once white and clinical staging becomes messy with mud, items thrown across the carpet and blood leaking from the floor. Symbolising Eric’s mind, his once innocence is tainted and becomes very dark and messy. While slowly building and pushing you into a sense of false security with the comedy, the ending where chaos ensures but suddenly stops, returning to where we began in Eric’s retelling of the story. We are left shocked and amazed at this story, on this stage, at this moment in time and the beautiful performances by the actors in this production.

Looking around the audience, not one single person looks relaxed as if their thoughts of the story presented on stage had still to be resolved. Being left vulnerable as an audience and to change preconceptions is quite a skill, Cyprus Avenue written by David Ireland and directed by Vicky Featherstone achieves this beautifully, disturbingly and intelligently.

Review X The Royal Court by Hannah Goslin


The stage is white, clean and leaning downwards towards us. As the ‘curtain’ which is more of what looks like the outside of a ship is lifted, the staging continues this colour scheme but is constructed with a huge crack in the middle. Are we in a submarine? The large window where nothing can be seen could be a more futuristic decoration to the current submarine style, a large ladder to the side of the stage into the ceiling makes you feel as if you are under something. And the stage is silent. The two characters mill around, looking quite anxious, Jessica Raine’s (known for her debut in Call the Midwife on the BBC) looking the most intense, munching nervously on dry cereal. So many questions arise as the characters begin to talk, and you find yourself becoming as anxious as them as you are unsure what they are talking about, without any previous knowledge of events.

As we begin to understand the premise, X (written by Alistair McDowall and directed by Vicky Featherstone) is the story of an abandoned space team with no communication to a future concept of Earth. The world has begun to die, food is made in labs as animals and plant life are long extinct. Technology has long taken over from tangible things and the use of an older character reminiscing this in comparison to a younger generation pointing out the more technologically advanced versions hits home to how we are slowly becoming like this existence. X looks intently at the sense of time – how closely we rely on morning, noon and night, how our bodies unknowingly rely on this and how this can affect us. The combination of all of these elements shows the slow deterioration of the characters sanity, with clever back and forth scene changes from the past to the current. We’re never really sure which is which, along with being consistently plunged into darkness for a scene change, we feel anxious and lack a sense of time ourselves. The production very intelligently brings us into the action this way and makes you as confused as the characters.

Soon there is a very Sci-Fi horror take on the production. The story telling of seeing a girl with an X cut across her face, movement and sounds in areas of the ship and outside that are impossible and the interaction with characters that apparently do not exist. It feels like a Doctor Who episode, with a little less comedy and more adult themes. The same use of black outs, the violence and gory scenes throw at you push you into the situation and characters feelings; the actors using their abilities to consistently be in this state, it is a real testament to them that the constant confusion and high intensity anxiousness doesn’t leave them just as insane after the production has finished. As I was sat on the edge of a row, the darkness and non-rhythmic music made me feel vulnerable, half expecting for lights to flick on quickly and find some scary alien like character staring at me from the aisle.

Ending the production, the scenes leading up to this are emotional, fast paced, almost uncomfortable. X is so brilliant with doing this, that the calm ending where Raine’s character once left alone, has a daughter who continues the abandoned life in this space hub, seems unfinished. While in a way it is resolved and gives us the chance to calm down, it makes you wonder what putting us in such fearful situations was for. However, this is answered with the sense of loneliness, the loss of the sense of time, the emotional and intensity of the production; nothing is resolved. We still are left not knowingly what happens to this space hub.

X is beautiful, yet scary, evoking a rollercoaster of emotions and to be able to combine such opposite elements is a testament to the production, the actors and the writing. Going home, it certainly makes you think: What will we become?