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The Theatreguide.London Review

After Electra
Tricycle Theatre   Spring 2015

April de Angelis's new play opens with an elderly woman telling her middle-aged daughter that she plans to kill herself this evening, and for a moment you think you're in a remake of Marsha Norman's 1983 'Night Mother (in which the daughter gives the mother that news). 

But in fact the serious debate over the morality of suicide takes up only fifteen minutes or so this time, and the whole plot line is dropped before the end of Act One. 

So the play is not really about suicide as a rational choice. But what it is about is less clear, since it changes focus, tone and style repeatedly. 

The serious mother-daughter scene ends when other family members and friends appear and turn out to be comic stereotypes – a bustling bureaucrat, a dim actor and the like – and for twenty minutes or so the play becomes a sitcom as they react in predictably comic ways to their hostess's announced plan. 

And then – and forgive me, I'm not sure I have these in the right order – something highly dramatic and totally unexpected happens, one character has a stroke and becomes near-catatonic, someone new wanders in for a while and becomes the focus of a comically confused lunch-from-hell, the daughter is abruptly offered a sweet opportunity for romance, and the stroke victim recovers almost completely. 

There's a lesson on how to look at art, there's a debate on the artist's right to violate norms and responsibilities in the name of art, there's more joking at the expense of the actor and the bureaucrat, somebody dies, and a rather creepy art groupie wanders in and then out again. 

Many of these five-to-fifteen-minute segments are effective at what they're doing, be it comedy, drama, pathos or provoking thought. But none are developed or sustained, and the grinding of gears as the play moves jerkily from one mode or tone to another is almost audible. 

My gut sense is that the serious elements just barely outweigh the comic, but the poster labels this a black comedy, so maybe the balance is meant to be in the other direction. In any case, it is a weighing-up of contrasting scenes and sequences, not a unified whole. 

Director Samuel West has been unable to disguise this disjointed quality in the script or to smooth over the jarring shifts in tone. 

But he does bring out what's best in each separate moment, and his hard-working cast, led by Marty Cruickshank and Veronica Roberts as mother and daughter, bring dramatic or comic reality to each scene even as they struggle to find any continuity to their characters.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  After Electra - Tricycle Theatre 2015

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