Home » London Theatre Reviews » Piece of Work at Camden People’s Theatre | Review

Piece of Work at Camden People’s Theatre | Review

I have no idea how true every aspect of James Rowland’s story, as it is told in this production, really is, or how reliable a narrator he is, but it doesn’t matter too much. The story unfolds in a highly authentic manner, and it’s a very engaging piece of theatre. For the record, some of the obituaries that came out in 2007 after the death of his father Christopher, the director of chamber music at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester, are still available to read online.

Piece of Work - James Rowland. Credit Rosie Collins.
Piece of Work – James Rowland. Credit Rosie Collins.

The academic and musician is given the opportunity, beyond the grave, to make his feelings known, through a recording of a relatively brief retirement speech. The younger Rowland, meanwhile, is unfailingly polite, more than happy to tell an audience member ‘bless you’ in response to a sneeze, when almost any other actor, whether in a single performer show or not, would have otherwise powered on through as if the sneeze had never happened, or otherwise made a poor joke about it.

Rowland’s sheer civility is a breath of fresh air. He’s also one of a growing number of actors who make a point of throwing what is perceived to be traditional values of theatre etiquette out of the window, although his liberal use of lines from the canon of Shakespeare, and more specifically Hamlet, momentarily made me wonder if he was advocating a (sort of) return to the rowdiness of the Bard’s era. He wasn’t, but the audience was free to come and go as they wished, as some of the narrative content was quite heavy.

This does not, contrary to what some may be inclined to believe, result in a free-for-all, with patrons coming and going as though the Camden People’s Theatre were a supermarket or a railway station – but the right to leave and return (or even just leave), in my mind, displayed a level of self-confidence in Rowland’s show that simply wouldn’t have been achieved had there been a pre-show announcement ‘threat’ about no readmission.

Anyway, I’m hardly the best person to ask if a working knowledge of Hamlet is required to understand the various references to that show and how they relate to Rowland’s narrative. But I wasn’t exactly relying on recalling various previous Hamlet productions to follow this story, and any relevant pivotal plot points were briefly explained. In contrast to some longitudinal stories that are unpacked so briskly they give the rap-filled Hamilton a run for its money, there’s an easygoing and distinctly unhurried style here. I was frankly astonished – in a good way – when Rowland asked the audience to ponder on something for a moment, and then actually gave us a moment to do so. It’s not something that happens often enough in live theatre.

I found it very easy to be drawn into this show, unafraid to throw in asides about a love of chicken burgers from certain favoured outlets (and most definitely not from certain others) in amongst talk of life, death and mental health. A thoughtful and amusing production that brilliantly epitomises the comedy and tragedy theatre masks with warmth and charm.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

James has been touring his storytelling theatre shows for half his adult life. This tour was different though. Returning home after his first stint away, he received a letter that exploded his life, and the tour became a search: for the person who sent it, for a sense of where he comes from, and to maybe save a life.

In PIECE OF WORK James explores how the landscapes we exist within effect the way we think and feel; how searching for something is an end in itself, regardless of whether the search is successful. It’s about our sense of home, and the hope that makes our lives livable.

Tue 10 – Sat 14 Oct at 7.15pm

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