24/11/12 - Theatre review: 'London' by Simon Stephens

This Thursday, I took myself off to Manchester for the second time in a week.  This time, I was flying solo and really enjoyed wandering the city.  Browsing in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, lusting over things that cost more than my rubbish laptop is worth, sampling my first ever Taco Bell - it was a lovely day.  And then at half past two, I took myself over to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the reason that I was here in the first place; Simon Stephens' 'London' in the intimate Studio theatre.

Cast member Abby Ford discusses Simon Stephens' London

I am a huge fan of Simon Stephens and the way he writes, so when I saw this performance come up on the theatre's website, I booked the ticket without a second thought.  I didn't mind going to the theatre on my own as I was just so excited about the prospect of seeing this production.  I missed the screening of his adaptation of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time for the National Theatre, so it was nice to actually get to see some of his work onstage.

'London' is made up of two monologues, roughly thirty minutes each, and the whole thing runs at almost an hour in length with no interval.  The first half, T5, requires the audience to wear headphones which take you inside the head of the woman (Abby Ford) who begins lying on a bed.  As the audience settle in their seats, we listen to the sound of her breathing and as the performance begins properly, a mixture of live and recorded sound make for an interesting experience.  Both pieces deal with the ideas of love and loss in very different ways, as well as the experience of modern London life; in T5, it is something stifling to be escaped.

Between the two monologues, the setting of an airport hotel room is deconstructed and the house lights brought up, stripping back the stage to allow Cary Crankson to take us on the journey of his character, Alex.  The illumination of the audience along with the informal, chatty delivery really draws you into the story.

The second half, Sea Wall, is one of my favourite pieces of drama.  The half hour monologue, which was originally written for performance at the Bush Theatre in 2008, has been adapted into a short film starring BAFTA nominated Andrew Scott (best known as Moriarty in the BBC's ground-breaking Sherlock) which I had seen previous to this stage production and was the thing that inspired me to get the ticket.  I seriously recommend everyone go and check it out here, particularly if you won't get chance to see this touring production.  It is absolutely breath-taking - I won't spoil the plot for you, as I found watching it knowing what was going to happen was a very different experience than having the story unfurl before you.

In my opinion, Simon Stephens' writing has a way of perfectly capturing the inner workings of the human mind - the use of flashback and the disconnected thought processes can be initially confusing, but the stories slowly piece themselves together in the most wonderful way.  His use of language is always stunning and it's so easy to get totally lost within the mind of the characters on stage.  The way he writes is so impressive and I know a lot of people have found Sea Wall to be one of the most moving pieces of writing they've come across.  As someone who has always toyed with the idea of being a professional writer, it would be my dream for my writing to effect even one person in the way Simon Stephens has inspired so many.

Did any of you get to see this recent production?  If so, let me know in the comments!

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