fri 15/10/2021

Leopards, Rose Theatre, Kingston review - a no-thrill thriller about sex and power | reviews, news & interviews

Leopards, Rose Theatre, Kingston review - a no-thrill thriller about sex and power

Leopards, Rose Theatre, Kingston review - a no-thrill thriller about sex and power

When the trousers come off and the handcuffs go on, the climax is the sexual politics lecture

Thundering agenda: Martin Marquez's Ben meets Saffron Coomber's Niala Iona Firouzabadi

Is it a thriller? Is it a character study? Leopards, Alys Metcalf’s two-hander about a middle-aged white charity executive – male – and a young job applicant of mixed race – female – goes under the colours of both, but falls short of either genre.

A windy retread of a thesis with which few could safely disagree nowadays (let’s say – leopards don’t change their spots, especially male white salaried ones), it makes an underwhelming opener for Christopher Haydon’s tenure of the Rose Theatre, Kingston.

Requested by the publicity team not to reveal the final twist of the 90-minute drama, I can hardly break any pledges by saying that this spectator had made one good guess about the play before the start (Oxfam), another within 10 minutes (who Niala is) and the outcome by the halfpoint. Haydon has already announced that he admires I May Destroy You, so there's a large clue. But in the dimension of suspensefulness, thriller this isn’t, because its polemic is clear and its destination is easily predicted, both through the set-up of the two-hander (in a hotel bar, in a hotel bedroom), and by the performing of it.

Thrillers are notoriously technically difficult to write, and if this had been a sincere character study one would mind less. The problem is that Metcalf claims to want to point up the smudgy trade-offs between goodness and badness – a very good human issue – yet her characters are unbelievable, and Haydon’s direction of the actors does nothing to resolve the credibility issue, let alone make the best of the situation.

The executive’s insufferable smugness is familiar enough from today’s daily politics, so I’m not saying you can’t make a good drama with an archetype, yet we are asked to believe that a powerful man with a taste for closet sadism would make himself immediately vulnerable to a blatantly obvious pick-up by an unknown young woman, wriggling in a tight dress and pouring champagne like water. Niala (Saffron Coomber) is apparently seeking job advice in the charity sector, Ben (Martin Marquez) finds something about her face oddly familiar. Again, one would have thought his alert system would function.Martin Marquez in Leopards, Kingston RoseThe author’s rush to enmesh the pair in a provocative situation tramples down the erotic subtleties of encounter communication (as acutely shown, for instance, in Nick Payne’s Constellations), and when the couple switch to the bedroom (above, Marquez in Lily Arnold's set), the hammering of Niala's hidden agenda is matched by the claps of thunder outside the room. Metcalf’s climactic release point is not the handcuffs and revenge moment but the lecture about sexual and racial politics – right on, all in favour, and no doubt easier than probing the smeary compromises of goodness and badness.

Marquez never emits much erotic interest - the Intimacy Director's work is all too effective

In Haydon’s directorial hands, there’s no help from the acting, which takes the schematic text and fatally wrings the sexiness out of it – even if you can see what's coming a mile off, this is a play about sex's power, after all. Coomber oversignals the distaste her character is supposed to be concealing. Marquez is better at bringing human reality to his tokenistic character, but he never emits much erotic interest in Coomber’s Niala to justify the writing of such extreme scenes. Intimacy Director (as listed) Asha Jennings-Grant’s work is all too effective.

Two stars for the play, five stars for the pleasurable approach to the Rose, a stroll along the Thames edge heaving with late-summer revellers, bikini’d hedonists sipping prosecco on boat decks, and flamingo pedalos. It’s worth the walk to the theatre, even if the dramatic destination is less surprising.

In the dimension of suspensefulness, thriller this isn’t, because its destination is predictable

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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