Excuse me in this review if I start by comparing myself slightly to the Workhorse Theatre Company and their debut play ‘That Pretty Pretty’.
A new voice prepared to tackle subject matter generally taboo in the current scene. Check.
A complete shellacking from sources that overlook the very real content and style of the work and concentrate on a superficial understanding of what that work is attempting to do or engages in a personal attack in which to discredit them and their work. Check.
Currently embroiled in a media scandal that propels them into a frenzy of free publicity and drives people to see them in action and creates a bigger fan base as a result. Check.
Art imitating life? It’s pretty pretty clear where some of the other theatre bloggers would like to stick that grenade.
Now to the play: this is a bold choice for the new Workhorse Theatre Company. They have clearly branded themselves as an ensemble who will favour alternative styles, structures and writings with a subversive flavour. And as someone who likes to chance it in a generally conservative environment and rock that damn boat in my most provocative “mumsy school teacher” twin set, they have my vote.
Workhorse is a mix of experiences brought together by common artistic goals. Director Netta Yashchin, whose theatre background is grounded in Tel-Aviv and who recently graduated from NIDA’s directing course has given her cast the confidence to explore this polemic play in an intimate but difficult performance space. The sightlines sometimes hinder action and it felt there was a fair bit happening on the floor (cue jelly wrestling) that all but the front row could clearly engage in. However, it didn’t detract from what was an otherwise humorous and polished rendition of New York playwright Sheila Callaghan’s play.
There is an energy in pace and range in this anti-realism piece that the cast manage to sustain, much to their credit. Playing a multitude of characters and variations or interpretations of the one role meant that the play, structurally, gave the audience work to do in figuring out what version of the story’s thread they were engaging in at that point in time, but the cast do a commendable job of keeping their audience in the loop. The choice to even sometimes cheekily direct dialogue to us as if we were part of their narrative increased the connection in embracing the subversive structure of the play.
Most impressive was Kellie Jones in her roles as Jane Fonda/Jane (and I’m not just saying that because it’s my name). Her comic timing, commitment and playful charisma of Fonda as opposed to her role as the intimidated victimised maid demonstrated a skilful range of abilities. All the cast demonstrated a strong skill set in this episodic play.
‘That Pretty Pretty’ is, at its heart, a play that explores the misogyny of male dominated narrative obsessions and pushes it to its extreme. Scantily clad women, shootings, rape and the other penetrating issues of the work are juxtaposed with homage to 80’s icons and pop culture references. It is a pastiche that doesn’t always hang together and this seems more in the writing than direction. It feels like every inspiration Callaghan found amusing, appalling or interesting found its way into this play and that someone needed to give it an edit, like in Owen’s monologue unpacking his blockbuster narrative that went on just a little too long and then the interview scene at the end that didn’t quite feel like it wrapped up the play.
All in all, Workhorse should be pleased they have managed to stir the pot. I’d like to see them succeed in this tough business and so thank you Daily Telegraph. I think you’ve given them a wonderful step up to do just so.
And for those keen to follow this penetrating provocative reviewer, I am now on twitter. Follow me on @janesoyp.