‘Terms and Conditions’ at the White Bear in Kennington

Wittily written, ‘Terms and Conditions’ is a thought-provoking, angst-ridden play, which leaves one feeling unsurprisingly contemplative, one’s existential sensitivities firmly ablaze. This is of little surprise, since the writer of the play, Patrick Marmion, set out to write something that would explore and subvert the concept of ‘reality’. In an interview Director Patrick Marmion articulates his doubts over modern society’s seeming confidence in this idea of ‘reality’ – doubts which come across lucidly in the way the play examines ordinary, suburban life through the wanderings of the unconscious.

The play is set in the newly bought home of a young couple with two children. Whilst endeavoring to tackle the typically mundane suburban task of unblocking the toilet, Kat (wife and mother, played by Jennie Gruner) stumbles upon an old, repellent smelling man residing in her basement. ‘Liv,’ as he comes to be known, turns out to be a violinist of apparently Eastern European descent – though the specifics of his ethnic heritage are kept purposefully ambiguous throughout. With slightly questionable haste, the couple decides to allow this wandering stranger to continue living in their basement and integrate him into their family life. The play thence explores the somewhat fraught relationship built between the couple and this unconventional addition to their home, examining the pressures of suburban, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ life, with an at times quite sinister edge.

Played brilliantly by Mike Burnside, Liv’s heart-warming and child-like persona detracts little from the symbolic efficacy of his occupying the rejected, contentious space of ‘the other’ and personifying the unconscious projections of both Kat and Les. This ‘otherness’ is emphasized continually in the heated arguments the couple have over the seeming irreconcilability of ‘his’ culture with theirs. By constantly reiterating that ‘they’re not like us where he comes from… they do things differently there,’ whilst never specifying this elusive ‘other’ place, Marmion provocatively explores the ‘us and them’ trope that is dominant within postcolonial thinking. Within this suburban, nuclear family, the casualness with which misinformed cultural assumptions are embedded in everyday thinking is brought into sharp relief. These tense confrontations also have one wincing somewhat at the less desirable side of young, married life, with interruptions from the crying newborn only serving to heighten one’s sense of empathetic frustration.

The audience is often left to wonder as to whether Liv is indeed ‘real’ in the objective sense, or whether he represents some phantasmal construction that differentially reflects each family member’s inner thinking. It is this looming ambiguity that overhangs the entire play, which renders the quite simple plot so thought-provoking and compelling. If it was Marmion’s intention to destabilize the audience’s confidence in ‘reality’, he certainly does so with great efficacy. However, whilst grappling with a number of pretty heavy issues and blurring the lines between ‘unreality’ and ‘reality’ (which, I might add, is no mean feat), Marmion keeps the play engaging and light-hearted with a brilliantly witty and fast-moving script. It is expertly cast too, so that the humorous side of the play is in no way overshadowed by the seriousness of some of the issues raised, and the audience is kept laughing throughout. The couple’s best friends, ‘Liz’ (played by Victoria Walsh) and ‘Walter’ (played by Jermaine Dominique) initially appear a delightfully comical pair, slurring and booty-shaking their way through one of the preliminary acts, only to sober up and reveal a more complex, darker side thereafter.

Mike Burnside was, for me, the highlight of the evening – from his heavy-footed meandering across the stage, to his frequent grunts and sighs, his performance was unfaultable. This is not to say that the other cast-members were not of an equal caliber, very much in fitting with the theatre’s obviously successful aim to ‘nurture talent’, with the likes of Emily Watson having previous ‘cut their teeth’ on its small stage. Self-described as a ‘space where risks can be taken’, The White Bear appears the perfect location in which to house Marmion’s play. This small, fringe theatre, located two minutes from Kennington tube station, in the back room of an old pub, facilitates an immediate intimacy between the cast and audience, who are a mere breath away from one another. For a play that seeks to blur the lines of ‘reality’, what better way to start than by spatially blurring the lines between actor and spectator?

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Running until the 1st December, with tickets priced at £15 for adults, £10 concessions, I thoroughly recommend heading to The White Bear to see this truly excellent play (and staying around for a drink or two at the pub at the front).

 

Eek, there’s a mouse in the kitchen!

A hungry student hoping to enjoy a quiet lunch in the 5th floor eatery had a nasty surprise this term – a mouse appeared out of a hole in the wall next to her table.

The student, who did not want to be named, spotted the mouse as she put her tray on the table and sat down. She said: “I was shocked and jumped up. It was staring at me. It didn’t seem scared – I was the one who was scared. It was horrible. It put me off my food. I was very upset.”

The unwelcome lunch guest lingered for about 30 seconds, perhaps hoping to be offered a morsel. Eventually it disappeared down a neighbouring hole (see picture). The student discreetly reported the incident to a canteen worker, then retired to another seat as far away from the mouse as possible.

What disappointed the student, however, was that despite reporting the sighting, two days later she was in the eatery again and saw another student jump up from the table she had previously occupied – he also had seen a mouse, and he also reported it.

These incidents happened several weeks ago, but when your Lamp and Owl reporter went to the scene recently with the student the holes were still there.

A spokeswoman for the college confirmed that mice were seen from time to time by staff and students. She said droppings found confirm that the problem is mice rather than rats. A pest control company is contracted to visit monthly and check bait boxes which are placed around the canteen. The pest controllers also come out the day after mouse sightings to investigate.

The eatery is run by the catering company Sodexo. It passed an inspection by council health officers in October.

The holes in the canteen have now been blocked up, so diners should now be able to enjoy their meals in peace. But anyone spotting more mice in college buildings – or indeed any other unpleasant beasties or creepy-crawlies, such as rats, cockroaches, fruit fly infestations, etc – is encouraged to report them to Lamp and Owl – and of course the college authorities.

Meanwhile the college may be best advised to invest in a cat, with good mousing instincts – perhaps it could be called Tom.

‘A Walk on Part’ @ The Soho Theatre

Chris Mullin’s diaries on the fall of New Labour brought to the stage.

It may seem an unlikely subject for a night’s theatrical entertainment but A Walk On Part, Michael Chaplin’s adaptation and distillation of Chris Mullin’s political diaries is funny, absorbing and cracks along at a terrific pace.

John Hodgkinson’s portrayal brings Chris Mullin’s honesty, humanity and self-effacing wit to bear on the follies, mistakes and, to Mullin’s mind at least, the successes of the New Labour years. The audience are guided from the heady days of May 1997’s landslide election victory to the fall of New Labour in 2010 by way of 9/11, George W. Bush, WMD, the Iraq war, MPs’ expenses and the financial crisis as Mullin progresses from backbencher to junior minister and back again.

The other four members of the cast – Sara Powell, Tracy Gillman, Hywel Morgan and Jim Kitson – between them bring to life a vast number of characters ranging from ‘JP’ (John Prescott) to ‘The Man’ (Tony Blair) and Clare Short to Mullin’s wife, Ngoc. Some of the impressions are spot on: the audience particularly enjoyed a demonstration of how long it takes for a smile to get from Gordon Brown’s brain to his lips.

A Walk On Part does not just concentrate on events in Westminster but is peppered with the less glamorous concerns of a constituency MP (Sunderland South) as well as providing touching vignettes from family life including Mullin’s wife’s observation that he’ll need more than one suit when he becomes Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (whew!).

Staging, by Max Roberts, is simple but effective. A screen at the back of the stage flashes up iconic images such as the planes smashing into the twin towers and key dates to keep us anchored in the story’s timeline. The other cast members weave in and out of John Hodgkinson’s performance seamlessly, making the whole seem effortless and shorter than its two hours.

Whatever you think of New Labour’s politics, A Walk On Part offers an insight, albeit an unfeasibly gentle one, to the Blair and Brown years as well as to the potentially more interesting character of Chris Mullin, himself.

For the performance, audience members are seated at tables, cabaret style and, while this may take some getting used to, it does not hinder enjoyment especially as there is a bar in the same room. All in all, a fun night out in a terrific venue.

Performances run until December 10th at 7:30pm with matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays at 2:30pm. There are no performances on Sundays. Tickets are generally £15 full price, £12.50 concessions (students, disabled, seniors, Westminster residents and unwaged) although some Fridays and Saturdays are £20 and £17.50 respectively and matinees are £12.50 full price and £10, concessions.

The Soho Theatre is at 21 Dean Street |Only 20-minutes walk from Birkbeck.

[Published initially 22/11/2011]

 

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