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Ravenhill For Breakfast / Life In A Marital Institution / Mendhi Night

Ravenhill For Breakfast
Traverse Theatre
4 stars
It’s a brilliant idea. Get one of the defining voices of British theatre to pen 17 hot-off-the-press, up-to-the minute miniatures, each given a rehearsed reading over the course of the next three weeks as an early morning eye-opener. Rather than some jumbled together living newspaper format, though, attempt to craft them into fully-formed state-of-the-nations nuggets that exploit their form to the max.

Judging by Women Of Troy, the first of Mark Ravenhill’s Traverse 2 residency with Paines Plough, it’s an idea that delivers as much as it promises. As the title suggests, it looks to the Greek anti-war play for inspiration. Rather than serve up some heavy-handed if well-intentioned litany of suffering, as Arial Dorfman’s play, Widows, did a few years back, Ravenhill sets up a double-bluff that taps into the responses to terrorism on our own very cosy doorstep. Here, good, smug liberals – or whatever passes for liberalism during the current Blairite hangover – take the moral high-ground in a world gone mad where the only salvations are giant charity gigs which fetishise the idea of ‘celebration’ into pointlessness.

In its incantatory delivery, its seriousness of both form and content recalls all the greats of the pre and post 1968 generation of English playwrights, from Edward Bond to Howard Brenton and Howard Barker. Under Roxanna Silbert’s direction, Nathalie Armin, Vicki Liddelle and Linda Marlowe are understatedly deadpan as the women, while Hutch Thomas’ foreboding announcements sound all too real in this thought-provoking and utterly necessary way to start the day.

Until August 26

Life In A Marital Institution
Assembly Room
3 stars
The way he tells it, James Braly met his wife when she asked for a look at the poem he was writing, and promptly started correcting it. Life-long romances have been founded on significantly less profound introductions, compounded by the fact that Braly’s ode was dedicated to an ex who reminded him of his mother.

Out of this, Braly spins a yarn that takes in what appears to be a solitary and really rather minor extra-marital indiscretion while he and his good lady work their way through an unlucky 13 counsellors who still can’t tear them apart. With a dieing sister and parents who are clearly the root of all evil in tow, this piece of everyday bourgeois dysfunction is a slight but no less disarming insight into how the male mind works.

Braly’s delivery is more preppy than laconic, a slow-burning riff born of me-generation therapy culture which, in the best Woody Allan tradition, constantly returns to Braly’s mother. Its’ not as of Braly is seeking belated closure after escaping from his domestic hell or anything. As far as you can tell, he and the not-actually-that-crazy-sounding-really spouse are still together. How she puts up with Braly, now that really would be another story.

Until August 27

Mendhi Night
Venue 45, Jeffrey Street
3 stars
Mendhi is the Muslim equivalent of a hen night, only without the alcopop binges and puke. Fin Kennedy’s dramatic poem written in collaboration with Asian students at the Mulberry School For Girls in London’s East End, takes such a crucial social get-together as his starting point to explore the multi-cultural conflicts that can arise when western mores rub up against eastern tradition. This is seen through the eyes of Ripa, the 20-something DJ and rapper, who eventually comes home for her sister’s wedding.

Ripa acts as narrator too, in this cracking piece of community theatre, which is played in a sparky out-front style by its vibrant cast of 10 young women. Like some stylised latter-day Muslim take on Jack Rosenthal’s Barmitzvah Boy, which captured the Jewish East End so well, Kennedy, director Julia Voce and the cast have crafted a 35 minute meditation on acceptance and reconciliation that’s light, bright and is blessed with theatrical verve. As the cast themselves put it so well, life, like samosas, is for sharing.

Until August 11

The Herald, August 2007

ends

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