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Feature Review - James Buxton

If you go down to the Isle of Dogs today you’ll be in for a big surprise, for the Space Arts Centre has been transformed into a 1930’s Speakeasy, where the Great Depression is in full slump, and the eyes of every man are transfixed on the sultry singer, Susan Lyons (Claire Sharp). Only thing is, Lyons has been murdered and it’s the job of Private Detective Hank Bradshaw (Callum Hughes) to piece together the pieces and discover what really want on the night of her disappearance. As we watch the events leading up to her death unfold, Bradshaw and journalist, Karen Carter (Stephanie Hampton), discover that there’s more to Susan Lyons than meets the eye.

Blind Tiger Theatre Company have made a commendable effort at evoking 1930’s Chicago, immersing the audience in the action as clientele at the saloon. The live soundtrack of the play is fantastic, creating a cool atmosphere which complements the tone of the piece perfectly. From the tinkle of piano notes to the smoke drifting up to the rafters, this is as close as you’re going to get to feeling you're in a 1930’s saloon knocking back a Gin sling and waiting for Capone to make an appearance. David Shopland’s direction is fully immersive, and incorporates the entire venue to full effect. This is 360 degree theatre at it’s most atmospheric and the Speakeasy is brought to life in all its seamy decadence.

Claire Sharpe steals the show as the sultry singer Susan Lyons as she glides across the stage invoking the glamour of a Hollywood Studio era Ava Gardner. She effortlessly captures the languid grace of the femme fatale and relishes in the affected innocence she uses to manipulate the drooling men who come after her. Men such as the playboy, Hunter Earnshaw who Michael Borch portrays with confidence and a combination of suavity and sleaze. While his father, the wealthy Industrialist, Lloyd Earnshaw played by Ian Chaplain is every inch the self made American man. In pinstripe suit and trilby Chaplain portrays his drunken advances in a highly convincing manner, pounding his fists on the table as he slurs and stutters in the face of his secretary, Helen Scott (Jennifer Johnson) you can almost smell the alcohol on his breath. Johnson is excellent as the prim and proper Helen and her officious nature nicely balances Susan Lyons character. Callum Hughes as Detective Hank Bradshaw is pulled straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel, a hard drinking, chain smoking private dick, that gives Philip Marlowe a run for his money. While Stephanie Hampton’s Karen Carter is right on the money as the smug and sarcastic hack who’s intent on getting to the bottom of the case.

Despite the quality of the acting and the evocative atmosphere they manage to create, there are a few issues that hamper the pace of the play. Some of the actors had visibly forgotten parts of their lines and this inevitably affected the pace of the play and our suspension of disbelief. At times pauses were left for too long and there was a sense that an actor was trying to recall their lines rather than using them dramatically. This means that the energy remained a little too slow and all though a languorous, cool atmosphere is vital to the whole film noir tradition, it needs to be tightened up to make the most out of the pauses and breaks in the action. The quality of the script is at times quite clichéd that it feels almost like a parody, but this is probably due to the fact that it is the product of a devised collaboration and it could benefit from being shorter and less affected. On the plus side, there are some great one liners and it’s a loving tribute to the Film Noir tradition.

Once the cast picks up the pace, tightens up their lines and ensures their accents are sustained, A Life In Monochrome is certainly well worth paying a visit, for a step into a world where whisky and women are the order of the day.

James Buxton

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Show Ended: A Life In Monochrome

The Space Arts Centre
269 Westferry Road, London E14 3RS

Show has ended  
Show Genre: Play
Director: David Shopland

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A Life in Monochrome is the classic tangled murder mystery, filled with jealously, crime, sexual tension and jazz; intensified by the strain of The Great Depression and the excess drinking which accompanied it, as the chains of prohibition were lifted. Follow as Detective Bradshaw attempts to solve the case of Susan Lyons, a young girl intoxicated by the city who learnt how to manipulate everyone she met and came to a sticky end.

“A sensory and evocative homage to American cinema” –

“Visionary… I felt real shivers up the spine” – A Younger Theatre

Blind Tiger aims to explore the duality of words and music, actor and musician and dream and reality to produce dynamic, mischievous theatre. The unique experience Blind Tiger creates is one in which story and music are not separate entities, but work in unison, heightening the atmosphere and engulfing the audience.

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Name: Richard Murphy     Age: 60   
An excellent experience of a 1930 speakeasy. The staging was excellent using the space brilliantly. The singing was beautiful and the live underscoring created just the right ambiance. I particularly liked the acapella of "Buddy Can You Spare a Dime". The parallels with the current economic climate were tangible. A production not to be missed.