Emma Donoghue has now written Room three times.
The novel, the Oscar winning movie and now this, surely award winning, play.
She’s worked it out like.
In tonight’s opening performance at Dundee Rep we witness a bringing together of some of the greatest of British and Irish theatrical, musical and writing talent. A sort of Harlem Globetrotters of theatre.
Let’s start with NTS: not everyone’s favourite and they don’t always hit the mark, But for me they do so much more often than they are given credit for. The company has brought us Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, The Strange Undoing of Prudentia Hart, The James Plays, Let the Right One In and Black Watch, all of which are nailed on five star shows.
That deserves extreme respect.
Then There’s Stratford East (just superb) and The Abbey Theatre (Ireland’s equivalent of NTS).
Add to that Cora Bissett. Time after time after time she presents brilliant theatre with a strong musical strand.
Up and coming Scots composer Kathryn Joseph weaves music into this production in a way you would NEVER, EVER have expected from the movie. She is an utter genius and this showcases her talent brilliantly. It is NOTHING like her Scottish album of the year winner Bones you have Thrown me and Blood I have spilt, but who cares – it’s a further development.
OK, so the source material is superlative and the movie (featuring an Oscar winning best actress performance by Brie Larson) is really superb, but this takes the whole thing to a higher emotional plane.
Being in a small theatre as this outrageously horrific tale unfolds, with the consequent impact on the protagonists, is a remarkable thing. Add a musical score to it and original songs that break your heart and you are in theatre nirvana.
(If you’ve ever seen a rape scene deconstruct itself into a beautiful ballad and then transmogrify itself back into a rape then, fine, I’ll agree with you this isn’t completely original.)
And what’s more, it’s two shows for the price of one because one could almost end the show at the end of act one. The torture over we could all go home happy. But the torture isn’t over because Ma and Jack’s brutal incarceration had conditioned them. They were in their own Private Idaho and freedom from that safety net into the “world’ opens a Pandora’s box of horrors.
Imagine the agoraphobia, the media scrutiny, the accusations (the interview in act two with the TV reporter is brilliant, brutal and heartbreaking).
As Ma and Jack’s relationship threatens to break down we too are broken.
Cora Bisset’s supreme directorial achievement here is to cast two Jacks. The boy (played tonight, by one of three, miraculously by the beautifully named Taye Kassim Junaid-Evans) really is just a boy; maybe 8 years old he is on stage for three hours. But it is his inner and older self that actually steals the show. Cora casts the stunning, and I mean stunning, Fela Lufadeju as Big Jack. His performance astounds. His songs break your heart. He acts off but never to distraction. He is the narrative and emotional driver of the whole show and his arrival on stage for the bows was met uproariously. He is nothing short of amazing.
And then there’s Ma: Witney White. Simply beautiful. A performance of great range and, you know, a tough gig. She has to be compassionate, angry, broken and be able to sing great solos and torch songs.
She pulls it off.
You love her.
I can, and will, go on and on.
This great black cast ensemble, rarely seen in Scotland, has a conservative underscore. Grandma (Lucy Tregear) and Grandpa (Stephen Casey) have thankless tasks. For a start they are white (turns out Ma was adopted). They’re divorced and they’re middle class. We’re not meant to like them. Especially Grandpa, the weak sod that left his wife having ‘buried’ his daughter.
But we do. Much more so than in the movie.
Stephen Casey pulls off a grand larceny in his role. The bastard of the movie, the utter heartless bastard quixotically transforms the part. The scene in which he holds young Jack in his arms as he realises he actually loves this bastard son of a monster broke my heart.
The closing number also broke my heart and the emotional walls finally caved in.
One last mention. the set design by Lily Arnold has to be seen to be believed, both my wife and I agreed it had echoes of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time but on probably 5% of the budget. It’s brilliant, particularly in act one. But how she visually re-represents it in the closing scene is nothing short of genius.
This is very great theatre and you have only four days to see it.
There are seats.
If you miss it and you’re too mean to pay the train fare or petrol to get to Dundee don’t come greeting to me.
I told you, for free, how great it is.
(PS. I’ve seen Let the Right one in, Road Kill, Sweeney Todd and now Room at Dundee Rep in recent years. It is a trip but I’ll tell you what, £ for £ this is the best theatre in Scotland. It constantly punches above its weight and it always disappoints me that the auditorium isn’t full. Please fellow theatre lovers keep an eye out for their programme: their new season is peppered with brilliance.)