Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court is a flexible performance space which can apparently seat up to 90 people. I am not the best with numbers, but I believe no more than 60 people at a time are allowed to take pleasure in this month’s Hero, EV Crowe’s new play.
After climbing up to the top of the building, the audience is invited to sit on either side of the traverse stage, whose floor resembles a basket-ball court’s or rather a very light parquetry and which presents a kitchen and dining room. The tap runs water, the oven rings, and the iPhone takes real pictures; the actors’ proximity turns us into observers of four character’s very personal and topical goings on.
Liam Garrigan and Tim Steed are Danny and Joe, a gay couple eagerly awaiting a call from the adoption agency. Their friend Jamie (the highly memorable Daniel Mays), who teaches at the same primary school as Danny, has just been called “gay” by one of his 6 year old pupils and has trouble understanding that the child may not have meant it in the literal way. What do 6 year old children know about homosexuality? And what shall they be taught at that age? These are questions that keep arising, although they end up being symbols for adult paranoia more than anything.
I never would have thought this play was written by a woman, which now makes me realise that perhaps Crowe chose the artistic initials EV so that non-connoisseurs do not unintentionally judge her by her gender.
It remains up to the audience to decide who the “hero” is, and mine was definitely Danny, although he was not in a traditional sense. His strongest moment was when he admitted that he didn’t “want to be one anymore. I don’t want to be a man anymore, too much responsibility”. These are words which one does not hear that often from men, as so many people mention how difficult women’s lives are compared with men’s.
Once again, how do you rate a play? I am quite new to contemporary plays as my ticket buying habit often tends towards classics – something I am trying to change. I found myself caring more about the play’s writing style than about the actors. In the case of new plays, the story’s words are the first contact to it, so it is important to pay attention. When it comes to classic plays, as we may already know the story, the acting, directing and staging become more central (to be discussed).
What is more, when it comes to classic plays, they have been played over and over again. Their varying productions can be compared. In a sense, we rely and lean on past performances to make up our minds about quality. When a classic play is thrown upside down and too modernised, it is criticised. Location can also be a factor of security. The Jerwood Theatre Upstairs was unknown to me, as was probably the seating arrangement for some audience members.
During my studies, an overused phrase was McLuhan’s “the medium is the message”. I can finally put it to good use again. Just like television can be seen as the message, so is the theatre’s location and entity. I’d like to come back to one of my last articles: one could say that last month, Constellations was not the medium, the Duke of York’s was – it created a state of mind in the audience: “this is a West End location, in which I am watching a minimalist modern direction of a new text. The stage is pronouncedly separate from the audience, which gives me a sense of distance and, strangely, of rest”.
At Jerwood, if you feel Danny is looking you in the eye, it is because he probably is. More focus is required, and certainly less coughing. In the end, just like the very first cinema goers fleeing from an oncoming train, you get used to every new medium.