The Southwark Playhouse is one of my favourite theatre venues.
It consists of two relatively small spaces, both entered through a bar, and aptly named “The Little” and “The Large”. On most nights they run shows simultaneously, meaning the Playhouse can host a wonderfully diverse range of performances, with an emphasis on new and emerging practitioners. With a 2-3 week turnaround on most shows there’s almost always something of interest to see.
This week’s production is Farragut North a new adaptation of a play written by Beau Willimon. It’s a political play, focusing on an U.S. election team during a campaign as they approach a critical vote. The play is tense, with themes of trust, loyalty and political deception.
…the scene changes are carefully worked into the performance…
Although it’s performed in the larger of Southwark Playhouse’s two theatres, it’s still a relatively sparse production. The staging is cleverly executed, with a handful of props being rearranged to create the illusion of several locations. By moving or adding a bed, table or chair, the team creates a restaurant, hotel room or even an airport. With no wings or offstage area, the scene changes are carefully worked into the performance, and the actors themselves seamlessly move props around the stage. Sound effects and lighting techniques supplement the props to create a strong sense of place. From a technical standpoint the set is impressively minimalist, allowing the actors’ performances to take centre stage.
A dramatic composition accompanies the performers, with subtle sound effects helping drive the pace of the play. The effective use of sound is particularly impressive considering that the show’s composer is still in training and the sound designer a recent graduate. Together they deliver a soundscape that is both impressive and unobtrusive.
…there were a couple of misspoken lines…
The cast of seven are from an eclectic yet prestigious range of backgrounds. Max Irons, star of The White Queen, takes the lead as a young upstart press officer, headstrong and recklessly confident. Shaun Williamson, better known as Barry from EastEnders, puts in a surprisingly strong performance as a brash American politician whilst Rachel Tucker –Wicked’s longest serving Elphaba – is an ambitious press officer, delving for political secrets.
With such a small cast everyone has a meaty part. Watching each character and relationship evolve on stage is the most satisfying part of the show, as some characters are revealed as loyal, others as selfish, and all as ambitious. Admittedly when I saw it on press night there were a couple of misspoken lines, and even a complete slip of accent at one point, all of which were professionally recovered and didn’t detract from the overall story. As I watched one of the first performances, filled with press and cast friends and family, I suspect these nervous slips won’t be repeated in later dates.
…The script is very strong…
Farragut North is a compelling story and despite being someone with no real political interest, and occasionally a lack of political understanding, I was surprised by how much I was drawn into the story. The themes of the play are universal, with the emphasis on characters and flaws being more than just confined to politics. The script is very strong, with powerful dialogue and monologues throughout. Willimon’s original play has been adapted into The Ides of March, a successful film starring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling, a logical next step as the play had a very cinematic feel.
Overall it’s a pleasure to watch, with a range of great performances, strong plot points and a continued sense of tense anticipation that holds the viewer’s attention throughout its two hours.