Wednesday, September 29, 2010

52 weeks, 52 fringe venues: Venue #7 The Tricycle Theatre

In theory Venue Seven should have been easy. The Tricycle is most definitely a fringe venue. Tiny Kushner is most definitely 'theatre'. The chances of me getting lost were small as I'd been there before. What I should have factored in, however, was the fact that my getting there required the use of the Jubilee Line. On a weekend. For anyone who doesn't live in London that might not strike the right amount of fear into your soul. But, let me tell you, FEAR. The Jubilee Line simply doesn't work on a weekend.

I'd factored in for the partial suspension of the line. What I'd not factored in was signal failure meaning I couldn't use the Jubilee line to get home. After a ridiculous route had been suggested to me by the TFL person present (bus to Waterloo, tube to London Bridge, train to Forest Hill - I do not think so), I sucked it up and took an overground route that took me home via Dalston. Dalston! That's bloody East London. And the Tricycle is in North West London and I live in South London. So - as dull as that list of place names might have been if you don't know London - travel. If we're going to look at what stops audience members then I'm thinking the Jubilee Line might be a factor.

As I approach double figures for '52:52' and the drip of ideas and thoughts is beginning to happen it seems that Fringe Venues need an identity. They need a specialism. They need the reason why I'm going to battle across London to get to them. They need to offer me something I can only see in their venue. I might not have seen any of the Tricycle's "tribunal plays" in their venue but they cast a long shadow. Any discussion of verbatim theatre in the last twenty years has to more than nod to this small venue in North West London. In the theatre ecosystem of Britain The Tricycle is important. And that's undoubtedly why I'd taken the ridiculous trip even before I started this challenge.

An unexpected outcome of 52:52 is that I'm filling up gaps in my theatre-going knowledge. And if the whole Cat on a Hot Tin Roof thing didn't make it perfectly clear there are more holes than knowledge in my relationship to American playwrights. So - I've never seen any Tony Kushner (though, to save some dignity, I have read Angels in America). Kushner is, it becomes clear, clever. Tiny Kushner, a collection of five one act plays, is also Political. And indeed political (see, that capitalisation really matters). This is the kind of programming that demonstrates perfectly the slot the Tricycle have carved for themselves.

The problem with Tiny Kushner, however, is that three of of the one act plays are pleasant enough if slightly inconsequential think pieces. All truth told: I'm not that interested in patient-analyst relationships. I'm even less interested in Freud. Kushner has, it is clear, a recurring interest in both. If it's one of the strengths of putting together these plays that it allows you to draw connections and parrallels between the work, its weakness is that Kushner's range narrows (if the characters aren't speaking to their analysts they're dead, in one case they're both dead and talking to their analysts). Even within these unpromising senarios Kushner can write a line - but it doesn't mask there's very little going on in them other than some lingustic and strutural gymnastics.

When Kushner has a story to match his dexterity and preoccupation with America Tiny Kushner soars. East Coast Ode to Howard Jarvis takes the (true) story of tax evasion by a group of city employees in New York and transforms it into a brilliantly idiosyncratic portrayal of personal desire. In Kushner's hands it becomes not a political quest but the story of countless, unnamed, individuals. Jim Lichtscheidl pounces on the material, bringing every one of the characters to life with charm, warmth and precision.

It's in Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy, however, that Kushner's writing feels truly urgent. We're in heaven and Laura Bush has come to read to a group of dead Iraqi children. It's not merely a polemic, it's an inspired - and deeply humane - portrayal of flaws, choices and missed opportunities. Laura Bush becomes an epic character for an epic story. Everything is not quite a simple as we might assume Kushner, with his storyteller's eye, suggests.

Fringe Quest Lowdown:

Production: Tiny Kushner by Tony Kushner (The Guthrie Theater/ Berkeley Repertory Theatre)

Type of space: Theatre, cinema and gallery complete with bar/cafe.

Type of productions: Predominantly known for its new work (political and/or with strong connections to the community surrounding the theatre). Both in house and receiving. Strong education programme.

Nearest Station: When the Jubilee Line is working Kilburn.

Seating: Auditorium on two levels, comfortably padded benches. Very minimal rake on downstairs level for all but the back two rows.

Condition of toilets: Good, though, as ever, there may be a queue.

Bar produce: One of the quirks of the building that, though occupying the same space, the cafe and bar are seperate - so you have to order food from one and drink from the other and pay seperately. Food solid and very well priced (you can have a meal for about £6), bar £1.60 for a pint of diet coke.

Other comments: Vogue calls the cinema at the Tricycle "Britain's most beautiful film venue", high praise indeed.

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