I am an enthusiastic theatre attendee but this is the first time I have visited this little gem of a theatre in a basement on fashionable Jermyn Street. There are seats on all four sides of the tiny performance area, and no one is more than three rows from the action. With just 70 seats, it is reputed to be the smallest theatre in the West End.
Ashley Holloway’s Lesere is a psychological thriller set in France, just after the Great War. The play’s atmosphere is conveyed by a set with few essential pieces of furniture, vines which trail from the ceiling and walls, and by the addition of taped birdsong.
Jane and John Lesere are an English couple who are living a seemingly idyllic life, running a vineyard in rural France. The vineyard is not yet producing any wine but John is working on establishing his business and Jane is running the house and writing poetry in her spare time. It does not seem likely that this business would be able to support them, so we assume they have money and this retreat is place for John to recover from his ordeal on the Somme. While John is out working, Jane is visited by an English stranger, George, who has injured his hand while out walking; oddly, he is dressed in a dinner suit. The two talk while Jane dresses his wound and she reveals that she gained nursing experience while working as a nurse during the war after she went to France to try and find her husband who had gone missing in action. George tells Jane that his own wife also worked as a nurse during the war but she has since died of the flu and he has remained in France, as he is not yet ready to say goodbye to her. George is planning on writing a book and he asks Jane to read one of her poems to him. When she goes to get some fresh bandages for him he steals her note book.
George wants to talk about the war which Jane and John do not. He creates an air of suspicion between the Leseres, suggesting that Jane hides her writing from John and that John has something he should feel guilty for. He makes John read Jane’s poems, poems that John had previously respected as her personal property. George suggests to the vulnerable John that they are kindred spirits, both having fought in the trenches. However, later that evening, George threatens the Leseres with John’s gun and forces them to reveal their secrets.
Jane, played by Cassandra Thomas, is a compassionate wife, caring for her shell-shocked husband. Leon Williams, as John, is convincing as a damaged young man trying to survive after a dreadful war. Richard Atwill plays George, a man with a strange and unsettling presence. You know from the start that he will cause trouble and you want the Leseres to turn him away, yet he beguiles his way into their affections by claiming shared experiences. However, I did not really understand how George knew so much about the Leseres and why he was so intent on destroying them. Does he have some link to their past and how does he gain from their destruction? For me, Ashley Holloway does not really explain any of this, so there is no tidy conclusion to the play but, if you enjoy a dark, intense thriller, you shouldn’t let that spoil your evening.
Review by Sally Snipe
Keep Calm and Carry On Productions and Harsthorn – Hook Productions in association with Jermyn Street Theatre present
LESERE by Ashley G Holloway
Directed by Donnacadh O’Briain
Design by Ellan Parry
Original score by Greg Batsleer
Jermyn Street Theatre
July 7 to August 1, 2015
1921. Rural France. Jane and John Lesere have survived The Great War and created their own Garden of Eden.
On an ordinary day in an extraordinary era, a charming stranger arrives who smashes the façade of their French idyll. In a deadly game of cat and mouse, he exposes the falsehoods upon which they’ve built their new life and shatters their fragile tranquillity. But what for? Lesere is a vintage psychological thriller, which explores the scars of war and the human capacity for survival.
The production will transform Jermyn Street Theatre to an in-the-round space in a bold and atmospheric design by Ellan Parry, winner of the Jocelyn Herbert award and Linbury prize finalist. It will feature a haunting original score by Greg Batsleer, recipient of the Arts Foundation fellowship award and 2014 nominee for Off West End award for sound design. The full cast for Lesere will be announced at a later date.
Lesere is Ashley’s Holloway’s debut work for the stage following writing the screenplays for several short films. Most recently he has completed the script for a full-length feature film Jamestown (a black comedy set in the mid-1700’s). He is currently writing Hounds of Plenty, bringing the events of Jamestown to the stage, and the feature film Bird Island, a political thriller set in the 1980’s. Ashley has over thirty years’ experience working behind the scenes in media and publishing and began writing film scripts ten years ago.
Donnacadh O’Briain is the Artistic Director of Natural Shocks. His career highlights include Career highlights include creating daring pop-up-venue PEEP; assisting Sir Michael Boyd on the RSC’s multi-award winning Histories Cycle and his critically acclaimed London and Dublin production of Leo Butler’s The Early Bird. Has developed and directed plays by Leo Butler, Billy Roche, Jon Brittain, Pamela Carter, Luke Barnes, Kay Adshead, Samantha Wright, John Grogan & Kefi Chadwick amongst others. Donnacadh has worked with the likes of Complicité, Kneehigh, Gate Theatre, Dublin and RADA. He creates performances for choir and orchestra at the National Portrait Gallery and Latitude Festival.
Box office 0207 287 2875
Saturday 11th July 2015