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Review of ABSENT at New Wimbledon Studio Theatre

AbsentThe New Wimbledon Studio calls itself one of Wimbledon’s best kept secrets. It’s completely true. I have come out in shock knowing that I didn’t know about this great space attached to the main theatre as well as just seeing what has probably been the finest piece of new writing and acting that I’ve watched in quite some time.

ABSENT is two separate plays split into two separate acts, both performed by the same two actors. Reunion is based around George and Jude, an elderly couple who reflect on their past as they await the arrival of their daughter and grand-daughter. Then, in Echoes, we meet John and Helen, who are two people who share a romantic past who reconnect in a slightly grimmer piece.

Neil Smith’s style of writing is darkly comic and simply brilliant. The depths to which he details his characters are fantastic and fascinating and the storyline concepts are original and intriguing. All characters I witnessed were thoroughly layered and always kept the audience on edge. I somewhat wish the scripts were available at the end of the show as I’m just the kind of person to read it, despite just seeing it, and shoving it down any of my friend’s throats that weren’t fortunate enough to catch it. Neil Smith has definitely got a new fan.

Actors, Jill Rutland and Luke Matthew Barton are perfectly cast in these roles. They are honest, raw and talented individuals as well as having perfect chemistry with one another. Their physicality is eye-catching and with Neil Smith’s brilliant words they are, vocally, consistently captivating. Both actors in both pieces create a type of hypnotic naturalism with their characters. I haven’t been fixated on two actors in a show so strongly for quite some time. Rutland and Barton demonstrate great and compellingly deep characters. They completely trust and commit to each other as they physically drag both their characters and each other through the mud and get up close and personal.

The humour keeps the audience entertained and silently laughing/agreeing throughout to these characters and their situations. But Neil Smith soon sharply takes away the smiles with dark plot turns. There were a few times when within one minute I went from smiling to holding back tears at the hand of these fine actors.

Covered in soil, the set serves its purpose for the storylines and the actors are never afraid to get, literally, down and dirty. The set, sort of becomes a character in itself as it’s not long in either of the stories before the actors start rolling in and moving the dirt around in a creation of frustration or theatrics. It works great.

The two pieces have a recurring theme that always brings an interest, and that is guilt. The stories have been put together to explore characters justifying their pasts and attempting to manipulate their present and future by controlling lies that bind them. The only thing upsetting about this show was the audience number. It frustrates me that work this good is being put on and word never gets around strongly enough. The performances and writing are noteworthy on so many levels and I, for one, will be recommending this as much as I can.

The festival, Illuminate, also has other similarly interesting things happening and coming soon and I believe everyone should look into it. And if not; Jill Rutland, Luke Matthew Barton, Neil Smith – please look into one of these, if not all of these names. They are all creatives worth paying attention to.

5 Star Rating

Review by Tomm Ingram

Illuminate Presents: ABSENT
A double bill of new writing from playwright Neil Smith that brings together the darkly comic stories of two unconnected couples, crippled by the reverberations of shared guilt.

In Reunion, George and Jude find themselves withdrawing into their past as they nervously await the arrival of their daughter and 9 year old granddaughter. In Echoes, John makes a surprise visit to Helene, whom he abandoned 9 years ago, seeking answers about the 9 year old girl that has been haunting his dreams. Absent is a bittersweet exploration into the power of memory, the lies that bind, and how far we’ll go to justify our past.
Absent is running to Saturday 25th April 2015

Friday 24th April 2015


  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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