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Review of David Cantor’s Sheep at the White Bear Theatre

Sheep (c) White Bear Theatre
Sheep (c) White Bear Theatre

There are some important themes that are drawn out in Sheep (which, incidentally, doesn’t feature any sheep, not even plastic ones or projected ones), but in all the comedy, this dramaturgically odd play risks trivialising them. Dexy (Ciaran Lonsdale), apparently named by his mother after the band Dexy’s Midnight Runners, has been awake, due to insomnia, for too long. I almost immediately thought about the doctor who told a courthouse in Los Angeles that Michael Jackson, the late singer, songwriter, dancer and record producer, went without ‘real’ sleep for 60 days leading up to his death.

This might not, I reasoned, end very well if Dexy doesn’t get some sleep soon. But, interestingly, he looked and sounded rather fresher than an exhausted person with a severe case of insomnia would reasonably be expected to be. This means one, or perhaps both, of two things is going on. He could be bluffing, or a deliberate directorial decision has been made to present Dexy as clear and lucid enough to articulate his thoughts in such a ‘normal’ way. Therefore, the audience does not need to struggle in any way to decipher what would otherwise be incoherent assertions. Or to put it another way, the focus remains on the story rather than on an actor’s ability to ‘be’ sleep-deprived.

Perhaps this reviewer is being over-analytical. Then again, it’s Dexy who is forced to question practically everything that is going on, in a narrative that becomes increasingly bizarre. A long scene with Vic (Bruce Kitchener), a Transport for London bus driver, is jovial and easy-going, but it’s a spiral downwards (or upwards, depending on your point of view) into the absurd. Margot (Niamh Watson) seems a voice of reason, the relative calm before the storm, though she too has her quirks.

Leo (James Groom) is delightful, if slightly sinister, looking like someone who has just come from the annual Pride in London parade and painting a dystopian future, in which, after 2020, once certain (ahem) events have actually happened, Britain will be worse off. He doesn’t say that word beginning with B, but the discerning audience at the performance I attended aren’t fooled.

All this does not stop Lonsdale (who seems to like performing at the White Bear Theatre, having starred in the previous production at this venue, James Bonney MP) from putting in a tour de force performance as Dexy, periodically palpably confused or otherwise simply exasperated. What the play has is an imagined scenario within the play, itself an imagined scenario. A post-show discussion could go on for some time, analysing what was ‘real’ and what wasn’t. Added to this is the obvious but necessary point, at least in this instance, that as this is a fictitious play in the first place, none of which is really ‘real’. The production’s ability to be thought-provoking in an invigorating manner, as opposed to an exhausting one, is most refreshing.

The set fits very smugly into the performance space, not too cluttered and not too empty. It always appeared to be the right size, whether there were two people on stage or all six characters. There are late arrivals in the form of Suarez (Beatrice Cranke) and Caprini (David Morris), a caricatured and underwritten duo. There’s a lot of silliness in this play, and it knows it. But that also means there’s plenty of humour. A quirky and strangely fascinating production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

It’s been twenty-one nights since Dexy last slept. It could be down to his choice of pillow. Duck Down. It
could be down the heating in his flat. Nonexistent. Or it could be the fact his girlfriend’s missing, the
police are scouring the streets and Dexy’s past is catching up with him.

Ensconced in his third floor flat, over the course of an evening Dexy attempts to cast his mind back and fit
the relevant pieces together, but as the blare of the sirens gets louder and night turns to morning the
lines between dreams and reality and rational thinking and insanity become ever more blurred.
As if this wasn’t enough, Dexy is visited by three very different people during the night.

Sheep
Playwright David Cantor
Director Georgia Leanne Harris
Cast Ciaran Lonsdale
James Groom
Niamh Watson
Bruce Kitchener

Producer Tripped Theatre, in association with the White Bear Theatre
Performance Dates July 18th 2017 – August 5th 2017
Running Time 85 mins
Venue White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Rd, London SE11 4DJ

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