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Review of Chummy by John Foster at the White Bear Theatre

Chummy: Headshot Toby
Chummy: Headshot Toby

I tell you things, you tell me things. Quid pro quo, Clarice”. A psychopath is much easier to deal with when he’s staring you in the face, but when he’s on the other end of the phone and seemingly unknown to you, the stakes are much higher. Chummy is no cool, calculating Hannibal Lector, but he’s just as volatile and just as dangerous. For private investigator Jackie Straker, there is little she can do but talk; talk to the mysterious man on the end of the phone and try to save the life of whomever his unsuspecting victim may be!

Noir is an inherently difficult genre to recreate outside the medium of film, however, Encompass Productions’ Chummy, written by John Foster and directed by Alice Kornitzer, is a striking and sinister piece that captures the key elements of noir with sophistication.

Atmosphere is perhaps the most essential element of noir and indeed the soundscape produced by Alex Burnett and lighting from Owen Pritchard Smith surpass expectations and work with synergy to create an all-encompassing and ominous scene. The use of shadow is an innovative approach to the genre and perhaps one element that is even more effective on stage than off.

In terms of characterisation, the cast are superb. The scene onto which we open is somewhat reminiscent of Regan’s pose in the Exorcist, sitting in a twisted form possessed by thoughts and voices and showing only the slightest signs of movement, albeit overly controlled twitches or repetitive motions. In the role of Jackie Straker, Megan Pemberton delivers an engaging and multi-faceted performance. While the voiceovers typically used within the film genre are nowhere to be scene, the script is written in a way which allows these elements to be delivered as monologues or disconnected conversations. Upon reflection, it’s interesting to note that Pemberton rarely interacts directly with the other performers, even Chummy for that matter. For the most part, her conversations are disassociated from the action of the piece and delivered as a reflection or internal monologue. She does so with intense focus and establishes and solid rhythm with the other performers, indicating a tight ensemble with exceptional chemistry.

In keeping with the genre, Chummy sticks to the darkness and is shrouded in black to achieve as much mystery as possible. Calum Speed works brilliantly within these confines but does not allow them to limit his characterisation. His presence holds a disquiet that means you are constantly aware of him, creating a sense of anticipation and dread.

He brings to the production a level of emotional vulnerability that is unseen elsewhere in the cast, however, given the twist in the plot (which I won’t reveal here) this may be a deliberate choice. Either way, it works to create juxtaposition and balance within the production. Completing the ensemble is Jessica Tomlinson who plays dual characters, Lucy Edwards and Karen Armitage. For this reason, she shows perhaps the greatest level of versatility within the cast and slides in and out of the rhythm moderated by Pemberton and Speed with ease.

Chummy is an enthralling and chilling tale of murder, misery and inner demons. It’s an incredibly hard task to adapt such a recognisable and characteristic genre to the stage, yet Encompass productions have created a piece that pays homage to the original genre but embraces the opportunities available through the media of live theatre. If you’re a little squeamish or not quite ready for the intensity, have a drink first; as Jackie Straker tells us “girls who drink whiskey have the best stories”.

4 stars

Review by Cassandra Griffin

Chummy explores the mind of a serial killer in the moments before his first murder.
Desperate to control himself, the mysterious psychopath ‘Chummy’ pleads with private investigator Jackie Straker to stop him killing in a gripping new stage play by BAFTA winner John Foster (Letters from a Killer, BBC’s Omnibus). A 21st-century theatre-noir, Chummy is a thrilling story of addiction, obsession and the lack of support that drives people to act on their most secret desires.

Staging another genre-piece after their critically acclaimed sci-fi hit Stasis, Encompass Productions are producing BAFTA Winner John Foster’s neo-noir Chummy in its world-premiere at the newly refurbished White Bear Theatre in Kennington. In the cast is Megan Pemberton, Calum Speed and Jessica Tomlinson.

Directed by Alice Kornitzer
Written by John Foster
Designed by Michael Leopold
Produced by Sofi Berenger & Jonathan Woodhouse
Music & Sound by Alex Burnett
Lighting by Owen Pritchard Smith
Associate Producer: Róisín Walsh

Jackie Straker – Megan Pemberton
Chummy – Calum Speed
Lucy Edwards / Karen Armitage – Jessica Tomlinson
Chummy runs at the White Bear Theatre, Kennington from 23rd May – 10th June 2017.
http://whitebeartheatre.co.uk/

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