Normal

Tue 4th – Sat 8th February 2014

reviews

David McShane

at 00:27 on 5th Feb 2014

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Normal, originally staged in 1991, is a hard play to excavate. Its writer, Anthony Neilson, relies on a mix of improvisation and workshops to craft his plays. This means that the original production is stitched into the final text. So it was with admiration that I watched this production of Normal which, clocking in at just over an hour, managed to find its own language for such a highly stylized play. In spite of the occasional slips, the production did justice to the darkness lurking not at the edge but within normality.

Wehner (Alex Shavick) and Kurten (Misha Pinnington) are obviously able actors who occupied the stage for most of the play. At times the sheer scale of the narrative-focused nature of the text showed, with certain speeches sounding reeled off rather than felt. But at their peak - particularly in the midst of physical movement pieces, such as the foot-tapping beat poem - Shavick and Pinnington claimed the room. The reversed gender casting of Kurten also proved to be a good decision; lines such as ‘we’re just two dead men, standing in a room’ never rang more hollow. It’s wonderful, if not expedient, to see gender-blind casting based on talent alone. If nothing else, it added more territory to the play, turning Wehner into a foil against which we form our judgements of his wife, the ex-prostitute Frau Kurten.

The direction was also impeccably clear. Staging it in the round easily created claustrophobia despite the small cast size. The simple props were cleverly manipulated to dramatize offices, deaths and abstract moments of mental enclosure, physically mirroring how the hapless lawyer is caught in the Düsseldorf Ripper’s mind games. Boxes became dramatic plinths, keeping the eye roving and the action fluid but understandable, vital in Normal where the overlapping zones of time and place could easily become confusing. Lighting was used cleverly, and with superb timing. My only frustration here was that occasionally the studio felt too well lit. Although the play is in part about putting the audience on trial, when the opposing audience member is as visible as the actors, it does steal away from the moment.

Despite some small quibbles, Normal is a fascinating exploration of humanity’s enduring madness. Disturbing, contemplative and with innovative casting and staging, it’s worth an hour of your time to find out just how normal you really aren’t.

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