Ruthlessness

Mon 13th – Mon 27th August 2012

reviews

Anwen Jones

at 09:20 on 15th Aug 2012

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The only awareness I could bring into the theatre at C eca where 'Ruthlessness' was being staged were half-remembered facts about Al Capone and his dastardly deeds which were drilled into me for a year 10 history assignment. I seem to remember he liked smoking cigars…

'Ruthlessness', however, doesn’t involve any cigars or fat men wearing pinstripe Fedora hats or any characters with those ridiculous smarmy New York accents that school kids employ when doing productions of Bugsy Malone. Frankly I was glad of it. Instead, Gone Rogue Productions delivers a performance of scintillating action with both comical characters and others which walk the fine line between amusing and disturbing. The manic, almost schizophrenic attitude of lead role Mr Carlyle (Sam Dobson) immediately presents the dynamic of the play as a whole – he is tense, changeable, uncertain and yet also humorous, vibrant and energetic. Dobson’s ability to switch from one extreme to another, sometimes executed with only a change of expression around his mouth, demonstrates not only his finesse as an actor but also the see-saw world of gambling and corruption. He commands the stage and invokes a sense of the fear felt by the respective characters in the audience as well.

Indeed the cast as a whole were perfectly matched in their roles – particular praise goes to the comic double act of Lenny (Alex Curtis) and Guy (Tom Searle) whose one-on-one action produces hoots of laughter from the audience. Also, the sharp-witted, ferocious attitude of Mindy (Meg Gibson) is a character to be both feared and respected, if not just for her ultimate ‘girl power.’

Despite this being a dark comedy about a fixed boxing match and various gangster players, there were times when the script appeared too adventurous for the amount of performance time. The twists in the plot are indeed interesting and surprising but the short time frame means that some parts are left unclear and make the ending seem rushed and uncertain. With more development the violence towards the end may appear less gratuitous and more poignant.

However, 'Ruthlessness' is most definitely an eloquent, exciting and interesting play. Watch it if you desire to see a mix of humour, dire situations and strong emotions. It has the potential to mould and develop the already impressive acting skills of the members of Gone Rogue Productions. Overall, a competent and intriguing performance with notably strong characterisation.

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Ettie Bailey-King

at 10:36 on 15th Aug 2012

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If you like cockney accents, fedoras, stage fighting and megalomania, then this play is for you. It’s a punchy, fast-paced, perfectly-pitched examination of the dark underbelly of post-1997 Britain.

It is, for the most part, a delight. The acting is sublime, the dialogue achingly authentic and the script as a whole (written by Alexander Curtis and Alexis Forss) is a deeply assured piece.

Carlyle (Sam Dobson) is a particular delight to watch, and Dobson’s dramatic flair melds megalomaniacal excess with vulnerability, in a sort of David-Brent-slash-Bill-Clinton circus of ego. The direction is smart and sensitive, allowing the small, Spartan set to speak beyond its proportions. Dobson’s speeches are sharply illuminated by small, well-timed gestures - a single, wince-inducing wink stands for everything we need to know about this man. In the scenes which stage his gradual collapse, Dobson makes chaotic downfall look measured.

This gifted cast, combined with a strong production team, produces an overwhelmingly professional piece. Simple selections of audio are used to magnificent effect; clips from Tony Blair speeches and 90s Brit Pop which intersperse (and eloquently comment upon) the play’s unfolding events. The Blair speeches in particular are a beautiful parallel for the fabulously slick Carlyle (Sam Dobson) and his polished, bureaucratic attempts to re-shape his father’s criminal empire.

In one scene, the intermediate music explicitly anticipates the dialogue that follows. If the direction were not so strong, this would probably have looked contrived, but the play is so consistently well-acted, so powerfully assured that one feels they could get away with almost anything. Unfortunately, the final scene pushed my belief slightly too far.

While the world of the play had hitherto been raw and somewhat rough, the closing scene pulls things together in an improbably neat fashion. Admittedly, there are some witty, self-conscious nods to what is being done, and the whole process is so self-aware as to be almost charming. But it feels a little cheap, and even though Ruthlessness could laugh at itself in the end, I couldn’t join in myself. There is enough humour in the sick delusions of Carlyle, the sweet terror of Guy (Tom Carlyle) or Mindy’s (Meg Gibson) brilliant aggression to have us entertained. Though it’s a clever ending to a clever play, it felt like a bit of a cop-out. Which is not to say that it need be apocalyptically bleak, absurdly funny or predictably in keeping with what came before, it just suffered from its own success. When you believe so deeply in a set of characters, it’s that bit harder to believe in the ‘shock’ conclusion.

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