Heloise Wood reports on the premiere of James Harvey’s dark, new play, Kalopsia
Kalopsia’s programme provided a definition of the title: “A state in which things appear more beautiful than they really are”. This formed the premise of James Harvey’s new play, questioning the truth of human relationaships. Issues of aethetics pervaded the play, the drama barn transformed into an artist’s studio with Jack Vettriano paintings and magnificent wire sculptures.
Protagonists Laurel (Panda Cox) and Mannie (Lewis Charlesworth) played a couple whose passionate relationship went awry, ending with Mannie running off without so much as a goodbye. The first scene was a sexually charged and slickly choreographed dance between the pair, in turn predatory and tentative. They were like animals, feeling their way around each other, retracing the tracks of their former relationship. The physicality of the play was powerful and the actors were perfectly synchronised and physically attuned to each other.
The concept that tied the play together, from the dialogue to the stage design, was of style versus substance. Laurel’s sculptures of meshed wire and electrical cable were both beautiful and threatening, created out of such coldly industrial materials. The use of a screened of area at the side of the stage was ingenious as it echoed the superficiality of the characters: they were ultimately puppets driven by carnal instinct, desperate to intellectualise and beautify this fact. Scratch the surface, we were told, and the beautiful mask slips to reveal many ugly things.
The entire play had a caged and claustrophobic feel; the artwork served as an extended metaphor for the trap in which the characters found themselves. Mannie only condemns the art as ‘ugly’ when he is an exhausted and emasculated version of his former self. This was reiterated in the choice of Jack Vettriano artwork: denounced by the art world as aesthetically empty and lacking in beauty, Vettriano still manages to be one of the most commeercially popular artists in Britain today. The particular painting used in the production, showing a couple dancing in a barren landscape, provided a perfect mirror for the isolation of the couple.
The play suggested the irrelevent neture of much human interaction. It grates on Laurel that Mannie constantly tells her how beautiful she is, she finds it repetitive and insubstantial. He tries to win her back by buying her a dress, charming her, but she can’t accept his emphamistic behaviour. Ultimatly, Mannie wants the safety of their reltionship back; all his talk is a form of manipulation. He exoticises Laurel, something she uncomfortably made both him, and the audience, face up to in the ugly sex that their meeting culminates with.
Fran Trewin as Janice provided the much needed comic relief. Her portrayal of the nosy yet good hearted neighbour was extremely well executed, over the top but superbly so as her manically sunny disposition had an emotional depth which hinted at something altogether grittier.
Charlesworth imbued the mysterious Mannie with charm, keeping the audience ambivalent about where to place their sympathy. Similarly, Panda Cox gave a moving performance as the woman spurned and both might have excelled had the dialogue not been quite so unrelenting: the script was an amalgamation of inspired writing and occasional clichés. Ultimately, the slick direction and stylish production belied slightly underdeveloped characters.
Sophie Larsman and Becky Baxtor’s production was a feat of consummate design, attention to detail and slick choreography. It was a bleak exploration of the hollow nature of human relationships, the framework of beautiful talk we build up to disguise the fact that, in the end, all we want is fulfillment of essentially animal desires.