Cloaca

by Maria Goos; dir Phil Quinn

Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth

15 September – 17 September 2011

This is a translation of a Dutch play and both play and author are sadly relatively unknown over here. This is a well written play examining the interplay over a few days between four middle aged men, lifelong friends. There is humour, emotion and plenty of detail, as each pursues his own objectives. It feels like there is enough material here for two or three plays, yet everything remains clear and fits together like a well-oiled machine.

The four friends are Pieter (Hugh Sorrill), Jan (Mark Plastow), Tom (Nick Knibb) and Maarten (Colin Ritchie) and the action takes place in Pieter’s apartment. Each has problems of his own and to a large extent is obsessed with these, seeing the others’ problems as secondary. In Pieter’s case it involves a demand for the return of some paintings, worthless when given to him and now worth millions. The paintings mean everything to Pieter and he has previously been forced to sell some of them, so returning them is not easy. Yet he has no proof they were gifts. His fight to keep them forms the central thread of the play yet does not dominate.

Jan is an up and coming MP awaiting news of a cabinet job and has just walked out on his wife. Tom is a debarred lawyer who went off the rails on cocaine and, after such adventures as wandering around Amsterdam in his underwear and spending time in a ‘clinic’, is now an advertising copywriter. Maarten is an avant-garde theatre director and has cast Jan’s eighteen-year-old daughter to appear in his next play – naked.

Tom and Jan agree to help Pieter fight his cause, Tom because of his legal experience and Jan due to his political connections. But Jan, being perhaps a typical politician, later backs out when he believes it might tarnish his name. This leaves Pieter without a leg to stand on and the effect on him is disastrous.

The whole play is captivating, despite some bits played out to the audience, which broke the intensity of what was happening in the apartment. The set was stylish and I liked the idea of reducing the lighting to tight spotlights during blackouts, accompanied by snippets of punk era music. The cast were all capable and, apart from a couple of sticky moments, the pace was very good. There was a good ‘team’ feel to the whole thing. Of particular note were Nick Knibb as a marvellously manic and quirky Tom and Mark Plastow as a thoroughly self-obsessed and mercenary Jan. And Alex Waldram only appeared briefly as a stripper/hooker hired for Jan’s birthday, but was very believable and her performance will probably be the first one mentioned by audience members describing the show to others.

So, a very worthwhile evening’s entertainment sadly only shown for three nights. Well done for showing us a play that’s a little out of the mainstream; I hope to see more.

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