Production: Cigarettes and Chocolate
Venue: York Theatre Royal, The Studio
Running: 11 to 20 March
I usually feel uncommonly claustrophobic and uncomfortable in York Theatre Royal’s tiny Studio room. It’s encased at the back of the building at the end of a tunnel seemingly designed for a World War II shelter, and stages small-scale productions seemingly designed for sixth-form students.
Despite the often too-intimate-for-intimate’s sake enclosure of the room, and some particular acting flaws, Anthony Minghella’s captivating concoction of silence and speech emanated from the stage and quickly painted over any inconsistencies. Cecily Boys – who also directed the second short production of the evening, Hang Up – got off to a shaky start as protagonist Gemma, who suddenly stops talking over the period of lent. Her self-imposed silence triggers dramatic monologues from the people closest to her, showing that silence and the necessity to speak to nobody but one’s self in a one-sided conversation can release feelings and anxieties that were only ever locked in the subconscious.
Whilst Boys has the perfect expressive eyes and enthralling facial features to carry her through Gemma’s silent episodes, her dialogue was executed rather clumsily. She also seemed to dance around stage in an unnecessary manner during her soliloquies, supposedly to represent her desperation and the relief of speech. But it all felt a bit uncomfortable.
Thankfully, the rest of the cast’s performances swam by with a happy balance of grace and intensity. Andy Curry was both charming and repulsive as Gemma’s boyfriend Rob, whilst Jenny Carr shone as excessively effervescent, yet endearing, pregnant friend Gail. One of the best performances came from Tom Gladstone, however, as awkward Alistair. Gladstone was infectiously gawky and provided the audience with some well-deserved comedic respite amongst the gloomy nihilism of the script’s themes.
Much of the main set’s strengths were surpassed by the performances that would proceed, however: Minghella’s fifteen-minute dramatic monologue, Days Like These, provided the climax of the evening after a certain lapse of creativity with Hang Up. York Theatre Royal’s depiction of this terse and delicate dialogue between estranged lovers, with its centralised dancers wrapping themselves up in a telephone cord – supposedly to create a “whole new dynamic” – was interesting to watch but simply too pretentious to stomach.
But Margaret Hiller’s subtle and tasteful performance as the solitary character in Days Like These was unprecedented, and made the reality of our own mortality become a sudden preoccupation for all those present. For an amateur production York Theatre Royal has managed to effectively capture Minghella’s isolated, incomplete individuals with delicacy and professionalism.