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Review: The Lago Season at Tristan Bates Theatre

No help sentIf a week is a long time in politics, and it is, how about two and a half years? When I first saw No Help Sent, now presented as part of a trilogy of plays forming ‘The Lago Season’ at the Tristan Bates Theatre, I concluded that the context of the story was unlikely, at least any time soon. Much has changed since March 2016 (and I don’t just mean the referendum about you-know-what), but the abolition of the National Health Service is still not on the cards, and I suspect won’t be any time soon. Shows like No Help Sent (NHS – geddit?) have played a part in painting a picture of what it would be like if medical procedures had to be paid for upfront, such that only the wealthy could afford, say, a hip replacement or a cataract removal.

For Mike (Oliver Buckner), time is running out. An operation to treat cancer went well, but the cancer has spread elsewhere, so further treatment is needed, but he can’t afford it. For reasons quite impressively detailed in the narrative, the various avenues of getting funding are closed off. So, a touch of the absurd comes into play, though there is something admirable, if woefully misguided, as John (Rob Hadden) resorts to irrational measures in an irrational situation. On second viewing I appreciated the dark comedy elements in the play a lot more, and this didn’t detract from the poignancy of the production. As the show’s programme reminded me, I once called it ‘powerful and absorbing’. It still is. I also note the student flat where the play’s events transpire is in a more realistic state of untidiness than I seem to recall from before.

WineWine, a two-hander with Mark (Tobi Faladé) and Sam (Harriet Clarke, reprising the role from a London run in January 2018), is such an apt title for the play. It’s often said that the consumption of alcohol helps people to open up more, and the intricacies of what transpired in their relationship previously (this meeting is referred to as a ‘second first date’) make for an interesting hour or so. It’s considerably more nuanced than it was in its previous incarnation. On balance, I preferred the slightly more aggressive version, but what this rendering does is reflect the delicacy and sensitivity of the issues being discussed. And in that regard, there is strength in subtlety.

I hadn’t seen Revelation 1:18 before, however. It’s an unusual title for a play, which perhaps inevitably led me to look up what on earth the Good Book says in Revelation chapter 1, verse 18. In the 1611 Authorised Version, it reads: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” A young three-piece band has been making music for five years, though Rob (Rob Hadden) is frustrated with an article in a leading music magazine: it appears the band, at least in the eyes of others, is following in the footsteps of others who have gone before rather than blazing their own trail.

RevelationThis puts the band, effectively, at a crossroads, and Rob is inspired by a paragraph in the same edition of the same magazine. He would rather, in his own words, go the way of Ian Curtis (died 18 May 1980, aged 23) than Justin Bieber. I couldn’t quite follow the analogy: I think it was supposed to compare a brief but now legendary career as opposed to a long but relatively mediocre one – I don’t follow Bieber or listen to his music, but as far as I am aware, he’s doing rather well for himself.

More pertinently, as Craig (Joshua Glenister) points out, being taken by one’s own hand still means following others such as Curtis, which isn’t what the band set out to do. Quigley (Oliver Buckner) is gradually persuaded by Rob’s line of argument. The emphasis on what others think was something of a revelation (sorry) about how fickle the music industry can be. For all the arguments and counter-arguments between the trio, Glenister’s Craig speaks louder than words ever could as he trembles, shaking with fear as the curtain falls. A memorable and hard-hitting production.

There are a lot of questions to consider across the three plays – and these high-quality performances make for a worthwhile evening. Lago Theatre are certainly on the rise, and long may their ascendancy continue.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Playing from Tuesday 18 September – Saturday 6 October, LAGO Theatre is unique in its aim to present accessible theatre for working-class writers, actors and audiences with a season of plays that put real-world issues under the microscope and on the stage. This series of highly relevant plays address a number of current hot topics including the male suicide epidemic, the privatisation of the NHS and the conflicting opinions surrounding abortion.

The season consists of three one hour plays written by co-Founder and Artistic Director of LAGO Theatre, Jack West; Revelation 1:18, No Help Sent and Wine. For the first time, Scott Le Crass and Harry Blumenau will direct for LAGO Theatre; directing No Help Sent and Wine respectively.

Following a critically acclaimed run at Etcetera Theatre, No Help Sent magnifies the overwhelming lengths people will go to in order to help those they love when the people who were supposed to protect them, have failed them. The NHS has been privatised, their best friend has cancer and there are no more options. Fearing the worst, they’ll do whatever it takes.

Wine returns to the Tristan Bates Theatre following a sell-out run earlier this year. This gripping real-time drama bluntly confronts both sides of the abortion argument. It’s their second first date. She’s living out her Hollywood dream whilst he’s still living with his brother. As secrets of the past creep up on them, it’s time to bring out their safe word. Wine.

Revelation 1:18 faces the growing male suicide epidemic, uncovering how toxic masculinity and the continual desire for validation can lead to the unimaginable. Reuniting for a farewell gig in the city where it all began, a band on the brink of mega-stardom ask; why live the life when we could leave a legacy?

Twitter: @LagoTheatre Facebook: Lago Theatre

LISTINGS
Venue: Tristan Bates Theatre, 1A Tower St, London WC2H 9NP
Dates: 18 September – 7 October 2018
Performances:
Monday to Friday Evenings: 7.45pm and 9pm;
Saturday’s: 7pm, 8.15pm and 9.30pm
Running Time:
Revelation 1:18 – 50 minutes
No Help Sent – 60 minutes
Wine – 60 minutes
Suitability: 11+
https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/

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