wed 21/08/2019

Microcosm, Soho Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Microcosm, Soho Theatre

Microcosm, Soho Theatre

Prize-winning playwright puts paranoia centre-stage

Home truths: Philip McGinley faces the heat in `Microcosm'Katie Cotterill

As glad as I am that you've chosen to read this review, I can't help thinking you'd get more kicks out of the Daily Mail's take on Microcosm at the Soho Theatre, if indeed there is one. Written by Matt Hartley, whose Sixty Five Miles won a Bruntwood prize for playwriting in 2005, Microcosm is, as its title suggests, an attempt to home in on the paranoia and anxiety expressed across the country by right-leaning suburbanites. The play doesn't pull this off with any special skill and has to resort to the stereotype of hoodie-clad yoof to make its point, but it does bring to attention the perceived role (or not) of the police and the part they play in society's gathering frustration. That aspect of the venture, at least, is all to the good.

John Lightbody in Microcosm at Soho As a heatwave rages on, Alex (Philip McGinley) and girlfriend Clare (Jenny Rainsford) move into the flat he has bought with his inheritance. Before long, they are visited by overly friendly Philip (John Lightbody, pictured right), an unashamed Tom Cruise enthusiast (is there still such a person?), bringing the customary bottle of wine and the wing-mirror of Alex's just-vandalised car. In doing so, he sets his new neighbour's obsessive tendencies on the path toward overdrive. Philip's incessant talk of yobs who hang around the nearby bus stop and the lack of action taken by the police convince new home owner Alex that it is up to him to protect his property.

Clare, an inner-city junior doctor, disagrees vehemently. She fears Alex will make himself a target by involving the police and urges him to keep a low profile. But stirred on by Philip, a buffoon who enjoys very short shorts and sandals, Alex allows the ensuing hostile (but not criminal) incidents to play on his mind, turning into a paranoid recluse in the process. By the end of the 75-minute play, it's Rainsford's well-intentioned Clare (pictured below with McGinley) who gives us the much-needed focus on the grey areas, finding herself unwittingly tilting towards Philip's side of the societal debate and arguing rudely with the benevolent policeman who arrives to help.

Microcosm at the Soho TheatrePlayed with necessary caution, Christopher Brandon's character is a sympathetic law enforcer with few words and limited options. The police don't issue ASBO's anymore, he reminds Alex, and there's a difference between feeling threatened and being threatened. In short, little can be done. The lack of preventative action gives Alex a reason to get lost in his own helplessness and for Hartley to include a cheeky reference to Spielberg's Minority Report along the way. With this thread, Hartley suggests we look at things through a wider lens than the one he provides, making Alex so unreliable that we have no choice but to think beyond the front window. 

Director Derek Bond keeps the emphasis squarely on Alex's psyche and highlights Hartley's shifts from more comic terrain to darker political corridors. The production is let down, however, by James Perkins's confusing design: the translucent backdrop is nice enough but would one really see cowled youths passing by the windows of a first-floor flat? That said, Perkins does deserve praise for working a fan into the set of a show at Soho's usually-sweltering upstairs venue. For that our thanks. 


McGinley's Alex allows the ensuing hostile (but not criminal) incidents to play on his mind, turning into a paranoid recluse in the process


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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