Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Sunday Times review
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On the seedy side

A festival of new plays

The Cottesloe

Review by John Peter, The Sunday Times, 10 November 1985

Peter Gill's little artistic powerhouse, called The National Theatre Studio, is coming near the end of its Festival of New Plays at the Cottesloe: I shall miss these almost-weekly visits during which I got to know some promising new writers, as well as actors, some of whom I knew only as faces from the NT's supporting cast and some of whom are new to the South Bank altogether.

One of the latter is David Cardy, a limber young man who is a former maths teacher, and who has been impersonating a whole range of nifty con men, both flash and seedy, with an awesome physical control and mesmerising sense of accuracy: I hope he stays on for some bigger roles. He appeared as a weedling intruder in Sunday Morning, a first play by Rod Smith: a 25-minute vignette of domestic pressures and marital give and take. Barry (Stephen Petcher) is an amateur photographer snooping with his camera on distant passers-by; when a self-contained, brisk amateur artist (Kate Fahy) captures him in pencil he's shocked into looking differently at life. I like this kind of writing: allusive and precise, using the simple details of life to make small but subtle points about people.

David Cardy reappeared in Up For None, a new play by Mick Mahoney, a razor-sharp portrait of the seedy side of Oxford Street, complete with shady money, illegal street vendors, casual drug-taking, prostitution, gullible black policeman and a steady accumulation of rubbish. Mahoney is good at the devious vocabulary of cunning, and at reproducing the tedium of sharp-time fantasists: his bloody ending is both unexpected and natural.

Both these plays were in a bill of five one-actors (two more performances tomorrow and Tuesday). What they all have in common is an interest in the feel and texture of life: situations rather than events. The point about In the Blue by Peter Gill is not how the relationship between two young men begins and ends but the sense of insecurity and hesitation which shifts to and fro between someone simple, animal but confused (Euan Stewart) and someone inquisitive, hesitant and brooding (Michael Maloney).

Rosemary Wilton's Bouncing, a sparkling little first play, doesn't really have an ending; nor does this matter. Her subject is the loneliness of middle-class women of a certain age; and three interweaving voices (Jennifer Hilary, Gillian Barge, Kate Fahy) draw a cunningly organised picture of it. How well Wilton knows the troubled people behind these placid accents; and how well she blends their sense of humour with their sense of melancholy.

The evening began with A Twist of Lemon by Alex Renton in which Roger Le Vaillant performs a virtuoso monologue on the fears and miseries of upper-class drug addition in the Golden Triangle. It is a piece of remorseless observation; and indeed another thing common to these plays, and to the entire season, has been a preoccupation with real life and naturalistic acting. This is fine; but I hope that Gill and his fellow workers will soon turn, as Peter Hall promised they would, to the exploration of other styles, and show us how, for example, German classical drama, Latin comedy and Italian farce should be played.

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