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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Friday December 15 2006

The night before last I went to a play, called Hellcab by the American Will Kern.  It was, as I have already said yesterday, very good.  My attention was held throughout, and there were, I thought, no weak links in the caste.

The performance venue is the Old Red Lion, which is a pub just near the Angel tube station, with a small upstairs theatre.  Downstairs there were giant screens with Wigan/Arsenal going on, which I also thought was good because you got real close to the action and could see just how skillful the players were, the way you can’t on regular TV.

The upstairs theatre seats about sixty or so, with the people in the front row where I and my friends were having their feet on the stage, so you get very close to the action there too.  I should guess that acting in such a small theatre gives you an extra chance to shine, but that it also gives you an extra chance to be crap.  In my opinion the caste of five all shone.

The play takes the form of a series of encounters between a Chicago taxi driver and the more eccentric, unhappy, distraught, drunk, drugged, and/or just plain weird of his numerous customers during one long day, which the other actors take it in turns to play.  The set for the whole show consists of the seats and the steering wheel of the taxi, but no bodywork, with the back seats a bit higher up.  So you can see the passengers’ faces clearly.

There is not much in the way of a plot.  At one point I was expecting some of the various separate story lines to start intermingling, and for things to be achieved, and resolved, for progress to be made, good people to be helped and for bad people brought to some kind of justice.  One of the people who gets into the taxi, for instance, is a rape victim, and I wondered if a subsequent passenger might be the rapist, and if maybe the driver would take him to the cops instead of to his preferred destination.

But that is not the kind of play it is, and that’s its point.  The taxi driver can do hardly anything about the “hell” he finds himself in, and which climbs in and out of his taxi.  He takes the people where they want to go.  He talks to them as best he can, offering comfort to those who want it, evading the weird overtures and defusing the weird threats of the weird.

None of the many passengers are just regular folks who just want to get from A to B and who don’t want to talk about it thank you very much.  Which is either a complaint that the play is rather implausible or an explanation of why it is so unfailingly engrossing and entertaining.

Politically, I imagine that Hellcab author Will Kern and I do not see eye to eye.  The one explicit dig at Republicans I could take happily, but I don’t like it so much when space travel is mocked, as it was mocked in the person of a crazy guy passenger who was for it.  But, this was Urban Democrat territory, and if you don’t like Urban Democrats you’d note that Urban Democrat territory looks to be a fairly disastrous place, if this play is anything to go by, not that this would be Will Kern’s preferred moral of all his various stories.  He would probably say, although of course I don’t know, that more Republicans should be separated from more of their money and that the proceeds of such increased thievery should be thrown in the general direction of the Urban Democrat wasteland, the hell, that Will Kern describes in this play.  Which as far as I’m concerned is an erroneous opinion that Will Kern is perfectly entitled to hold, if he holds it.  Please understand that this paragraph is only here for the more blinkered and right wing of my readers who only like plays by people they completely agree with politically.

imageCards on the table time.  One of the actresses in Hellcab is Sarah Lowes, who I got to know when she read the part of Helena in that Midsummer Night’s Dream recording that I was in.  (It was a education in Shakespeare speaking just to sit next to her at one of the read-throughs.) Our little party was organised by another of Sarah’s friends, and I was basically at Hellcab to see if Sarah Lowes is as good at acting as I already guessed her to be.  She is.  All her bits were very good, and her mum in labour, screaming at her hapless you-did-this-to-me-you-bastard husband, and at the damn driver to hurry up getting to the hospital, was one of the highlights of the evening.

On the night we went, the drama didn’t wait to get started until the mere play itself started, at 7.30 pm.  About an hour before the curtain would have gone up, had there been a curtain, we were phoned with the news that one of the actresses was off sick, and that the show was off.  No understudies, you see.  Not that grand a show.  Then, there was another phone call to say that it was on, with others reading the part of the stricken actress, an arrangement which was confirmed at the beginning of the show.  All this on the night when the critic from Time Out was due to be there.  Show biz, eh?

It worked out fine, and you hardly realised it was happening.  The missing actress was doing various passengers, and the passengers all sat with their faces clearly visible, but with their laps largely invisible behind the fronts seats of the taxi, at any rate from where I was sitting dead in line with the seats.  I only realised that Sarah’s star turn as screaming mum-to-be was Sarah filling in for her absent colleague when, towards the end of that bit, I glimpsed the pages that Sarah was reading from.  I would never have known if I hadn’t seen that.  For Sarah was reading, let me tell you, in a very acting type way.  Outstanding.

Given that the temporarily absent Jessica Carroll was picked to be part of this excellent caste, I’d recommend betting on her to be excellent also as soon as she recovers.  Sarah apart, I particularly like the contributions of Peter Rae, but they were all good, and probably, when I think about it, the most admirable of all was the pivotal performance of Paul Constantine as the tired, cold and generally put-upon driver, who was on stage pretty much all the time.  I especially like how he played the bit when his passengers - Zoe Robinson and Tunde Makinde both deserve a name check too - had sex in the back seat, quite convincingly I might add.  And I rather think that Zoe Robinson as the hapless rape victim was filling in for Jessica Carroll also.  Again, very successfully.

The directing by Jono Gadsby kept things simple (no complicated scenery), moved things along at a fine clip (with no interval by the way), and concentrated on getting the best out of the actors.

I don’t know if the American accents would have convinced a Chicagoan, being somewhat undercooked and Anglo-ish to my ear.  But they were plenty good enough for me and never a distraction.  Paul Constantine sounded especially good in this respect.

There will only be a total of twenty two performances of this show, of which the second was the one that I and my friends went to, and of which the last will be on December 31st, so book now if you want to take a chance on this fine show.

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