Thursday, 17 October 2019

The Jokers… The House of Yes, Hope Theatre

“A person gets their heart set on a certain thing…”

Funny, sexy, violent, frightening and unsettling, Matthew Parker’s last in-house production as Artistic Director for The Hope, had everything I love about his work. You grab a drink downstairs in the bar of this famous venue and walk upstairs into a performance area that even smells different from the world below. 85 minutes later you crack a twisted wistful smile as you walk out trying to process the many layers just unpeeled in front of your very eyes…

There’s a dark magic here and a team of performers who are utterly within their roles – there’s no room to hide as audience or performer with the players standing amongst us as once again, Mr Parker makes use of every inch of the Hope.

This being a last hurrah it was fitting that three stars from three of my favourite Parker performances feature strongly; Colette Eaton from Her Aching Heart, Fergus Leathem from Brimstone & Treacle and Bart Lambert from Thrill Me: the Leopold and Loeb Story.
Colette Eaton and Bart Lambert  - photos from lhphotoshots
Colette Eaton prowled the stage tonight with malicious confidence as Jackie-O, the twisted twin sister of Marty (Leathem) with a history of psychiatric disorders, medicated almost to the point of normal behaviour but still obsessed with the death of JFK. She makes me think of a certain character currently on screens played by Joaquin Phoenix, only her Jackie has more menace and less make-up. She owns the role with a smile and a laugh that Clown Prince of Crime would envy and has such assurance and control that her primal screams of rage all the more astonishing.

In the intimacy of the Hope you are tempted to reach out and comfort an actor in seeming distress, that’s how completely you are part of their world and I felt for the twin’s younger brother, Anthony, played by Bart Lambert as a sympathetic sociopath all of his own. This is indeed one strange family and Bart has such intense expressiveness and quivering febrility imbuing his character with fear and cunning: at once worn down by and revelling in the family house rules of "do as thy wilt shall be the whole of the law".

It’s Thanksgiving eve and there’s a hurricane blowing outside; the least pathetic fallacy ever – no one’s getting out of this House unchanged.
Mother knows best... Gill King - lhphotoshots
Mother knows best of course, and murderous matriarch Mother Pascal (Gill King, classy, imperious, Cruella DC...) is the wicked witch of Washington who dominates and enables the free-roaming morality of her children. Marty is the one trying to build an existence outside of her centrifugal cruelty and brings home his fiancée, Lesly (Kaya Bucholc, so energetically commited as the play's most identifiable character; experiencing The House through our eyes), a “civilian”, a working class girl from Pennsylvania who has no name just a lot of character especially when faced with the family’s desperate need to pull Marty back in. It's a change of pace for Fergus Leathem after Brimstone, and he plays the almost-straight man to his family's sick jokes with subtle confidence.

"Ive never even met anyone whos been to Pennsylvania, much less been from Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania is just this state that gets in your way when you have to go someplace else."

Like antibodies the Pascals work on Lesly’s alien force; Mother through aggression, Anthony by hitting on her and Jackie-O who uses the most powerful lure of all for her twin…

Wendy Macleod’s play resonates on so many levels right now as, thirty odd years after it was written, we have another family running the Whitehouse and who, like the Pascal’s want all of the Kennedy trappings without the political conscience. Jackie-O dresses up as Jackie Kennedy complete with fake blood and JFK brains on her dress; no more horrific than the way reality is turning out. Take notes Ivanka…
Kaya Bucholc - lhphotoshots
The entitled psychopathy is very 2019 as, from all around the world, might is increasingly right and Lesly, despite her spirit, is just another intelligent and reasonable person who is damaged by the Pascal fruits. But, hey, they may be a little “crazy”, but they’re the ones with the power.

The House of Yes is mad good fun with a hundred zingers in the text all delivered with deathly deadpan by Parker’s posse of perfect performers. It’s a fitting farewell for the remarkable Mr Parker – almost a “greatest hits” collection of the funny, peculiar and thought-provoking themes that run though his work like a bitter-sweet Blackpool through a stick of rock. Here’s to the next one but meanwhile DO NOT miss this black swansong.

A tip of the hat too Stage Manager, Laurel Marks who made the lighting and sound design work so well on the night - the sixth performer on stage so no pressure! As usual the Hope was transformed this time by Rachael Ryan's design along with Lucia Sanchez-Roldan's lighting design and Simon Arrowsmith's sound. An in-house team that obviously likes to say yes.
Colette Eaton and Fergus Leathem  - photos from lhphotoshots
IThankYou rating: ***** “A Play for Today with some stunning swerves and quite simply one of the finest displays of acting and direction I’ve seen all year.”

The House of Yes runs until 26th October, full details on the Hope website.

“Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to baste the turkey and hide the kitchen knives…”
Premier league lurking from Ms Eaton.

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