Review: The Sun in The Cellar
Writer and Director: Tom Vickers
Producer: Ryan Hall
On arrival I was anxious for a number of reasons; the first was due to the play being student written, not for fear of lack of quality but because I had no idea what to expect. Secondly the play contained dialogue in French, for the latter reason I dragged along my French speaking companion. My anxiety was justified: Tom Vicker’s production proved to be unexpected, provocative, haunting and yes a little bit French.
The play was performed in the round, or more precisely in the hexagon, centred intriguingly on an old freestanding bath positioned below a round paper light. From the opening dub step by Blackstone to Edith Piaf and a string quartet, the eclectic music choices were compelling and aptly chosen for each scene’s intention.
The great success and beauty of this production is entirely due to the creative vision and writing of Tom Vickers. His idea – a post-apocalyptic world where one wealthy and powerful family selfishly built their own underground home to protect themselves – was original and effective. Vickers claims to have been inspired by an exhibition at the Tate named ‘The Weather Project’ which featured a large artificial sun in the Turbine Hall. He successfully transposed this idea by creating a large paper light that hung directly over the rancid bath tub, allowing for powerful lines like ‘”My sun never sets”, unfortunately this also inspired more insipid references to consciously creepy songs like “You are my Sunshine…”
Vianney Delespaux was the understated and enigmatic star of the production, playing the role of West, whose silence added to the mood of imminent danger and stifling desires. Vianney’s beautiful and melodic rendition of Edith Piaf’s French classic ‘Non Je Ne Regrette Rien’ was powerfully and hauntingly juxtaposed with the climatic strangling of Angeline, the mistress of the cellar. West’s character emphasised the weaknesses in the defiant Aurore who claims she couldn’t even set fire to Angeline in her dreams, let alone in real life.
Georgia Bird played the role of Aurore convincingly with consistent control, fluidity and composure. However Aurore’s rant in French was somewhat unintelligible, even to someone fluent in French. This exasperation was successfully conveyed, yet I wish that some of the more striking and powerful lines had been delivered in English, since her French lines, when intelligible, held more depth and poignancy. The inspired ideas and characters in the play were mostly three dimensional, with the exception of Angeline. She is a figure walking a well-trodden path; the isolated, beautiful, precocious, rich woman reminiscent of a French aristocrat. However Catherine Bennett’s poised performance of the script was suggestive; she brought an intriguing mix of languor and sexual frustration to the character, especially in the scenes between her and Edmund.
Edmund, played by Adam Alcock, was most successful when playing the sarcastic, mono-tonal, indifferent footman. Although the character’s development was necessary, his breakdown’s were sensationalised and his performance perhaps lacked the subtlety which took away from the seriousness of the subject.
The final scene was fittingly ambiguous; it remained unclear whether the three ‘revolutionaries’, standing silently with dirt falling between their fingers, had found something growing on Earth – as Aurore dreamed of – or the dusty lifeless ruins of civilisation. I gave this play four stars primarily because of the quality of the writing was outstanding for a student production. The Sun in The Cellar is a very good play on the cusp of being a great one.