Actually review – Trafalgar Studios

3 star review

Back in 2015 Anna Ziegler had something of a West End hit with her play Photograph 51, which starred Nicole Kidman in an award-winning performance as pioneering British scientist Rosalind Franklin.

Four years on Ziegler is back in London with this intense two-hander which examines the thorny issue of sexual consent through the story of two students at America’s elite Princeton University.

We first see Amber (Yasmin Paige) and Tom (Simon Manyonda) begin their fateful date at a party where their courtship (or foreplay) includes a game of Two Truths and a Lie.

They spend the night in his room, but when Amber accuses Tom of rape the pair present their conflicting accounts in forensic detail to a college committee which will determine whether sexual misconduct occurred.

Tom points out that the weight of evidence required for either of their stories to be believed could be  “fifty percent plus a feather”. It’s a potent image that echoes throughout the play’s talky but engaging 90 minutes.

Manyonda and Paige have excellent chemistry and cope admirably with the script’s rapid switches between dialogue and their individual confessionals to the audience.

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Yasmin Paige as Amber in Actually

Paige’s Amber is nervous and quirky, speaks at a hundred miles per hour and has a tendency to say the wrong thing. Manyonda brings plenty of depth and pathos to his confident and classical music loving Tom.

As Zeigler states in her playwright’s note, the statement she is trying to make is not about the standard of proof that decides these cases, but the wider motivations that drive us to behave as we do.

There are no easy answers here, but director Oscar Toeman keeps the action brisk,  ensuring each character has their story clearly heard.

As I headed out of the theatre towards Trafalgar Square under darkening skies I reflected on what I’d just seen and how that the concept of truth, in an age where fake news has become a daily mantra, now seemed more slippery than ever.

Actually is at Trafalgar Studios until 31 August

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Admissions review – Trafalgar Studios (and touring)

My next stop is a visit to Admissions at Trafalgar Studios before it heads off on tour.

(As a Doctor Who fan, it’s a treat to see Alex Kingston on stage in the same week as Jenna Coleman in All My Sons.)

Joshua Harmon’s play packs a lot about race, diversity, privilege and white liberal angst into a fairly shouty 100 minutes.

Kingston plays Sherri, the head of admissions at a private boarding school in the US, who is proud of the advances she has made in improving diversity among the student intake.

In the opening scene, she passionately explains to her colleague Roberta (Margot Leicester) why the school prospectus needs to reflect the real world.

But Sherri’s progressive credentials are put to the test when her son Charlie (Ben Edelman) has his university place at Yale deferred while his mixed race friend Perry gets in.

This leads to an epic rant from Charlie in front of his shocked parents about “box ticking”. It’s a pivotal speech that earns Edelman a round of applause for his efforts (and a much-deserved drink of water).

Director Daniel Aukin keeps the story engaging – even when it’s forcing the audience to ask themselves difficult questions – and makes great use of the static kitchen set.

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Photo: Johan Persson

The strong cast of five is completed by Andrew Woodall as Sherri’s headteacher husband Bill and Sarah Hadland (Miranda’s Stevie) as her friend Ginnie, who also happens to be Perry’s mother.

If you like your comedy with an uncomfortable edge, seek admission here.

Admissions is at Trafalgar Studios until 25 May and then touring to Richmond Theatre (27 May – 1 June), Cambridge Arts Theatre (3-8 June), Malvern Theatres (10-15 June) and The Lowry, Salford (17-22 June).