Adam Thornton recommends the Park Theatre’s newest drama for ‘a vast emotional jungle’ – it makes you feel.
Nicely tucked away next to Finsbury Park Station you will find the brand new Park Theatre. With an intimate 200-seat space and books screwed into the bar’s ceiling, Park Theatre is like a home away from home for Goldsmiths students – off the beaten track, edgy and packing a cool vibe. As claimed on the website, they try to ‘choose plays based on how they make us feel.’ This focus on feeling and mood was perfectly captured in the London debut of Robert Holman’s 2008 drama Jonah and Otto, which the theatre is showing this month.
The Park Theatre. Photo – http://parktheatre.co.uk/
The simplistic play follows the erratic yet sensitive relationship which grows between two strangers over a single day. Isolated and afraid of life, Jonah and Otto ‘share their solitude and unfold their secrets,’ eventually learning to understand themselves. Sounds cliché, right? After the lights fade and everyone applauds, however, I realised that despite its basic premise, the enduring themes of love, life, and loneliness had resonated among the entire audience. This was a play with feeling.
Most of this feeling was created by the two actors, the only in the whole play. Peter Egan and Alex Waldmann did not waste a single moment on stage. Holman’s dialogue-focused script works in their favour to allow for chemistry between the two characters to naturally blossom. But this wasn’t just a pair of talking mannequins – it was refreshing to see how much they used the space as well. Each performer’s movements were purposeful and dynamic, fuelling each scene with the energy needed to engage the audience.
Egan and Waldmann provide the right balance between speech and physicality, exploring a vast emotional jungle sensitively and honestly. Every pause, every glance between them, provided the audience with something more. It felt as if the pair had performed the play for years. With less skilled actors in their roles, the night would have been boring and lifeless.
Alex Waldmann and Peter Egan in character.
The atmosphere is as credit to theatre company B29 Productions and director Tim Stark. Simon Bejer’s set was kept to a minimum, which at first I wrongly interpreted as a lack of creativity. It turned out that the use of the back wall of the theatre was no accident: Stark told me they ‘wanted the audience to feel that they were part of the fabric of the building itself.’ I realised that this was key to the whole emotional impact of the performance.
The thoughtfully considered design also bore resemblance to the play. Like the journey the characters take, the theatre had been stripped bare, the wall symbolising the barriers both characters had constructed around themselves. By the final scene, a wash of light had warmed up the wall: ‘the bricks themselves now hold all the energy released by Jonah and Otto,’ Stark explained, showing how much meaning such a simple set can carry. The drama did not require complex aesthetics, a bench and a brick wall was enough.
It’s a shame that Jonah and Otto won’t make it into larger theatrical circulation, but perhaps then its charm would be lost. The play clicks with the modern venue, inextricably linked to it. I’m sure it clicked with most of the audience as well. If you do wander over to Islington and see it, overlook the lack of plot twists, strobe lights or RSC ensemble. Instead, appreciate the mature performances and ultimately uplifting themes. The play might not change your life, but you’ll feel something. And that’s what theatre is all about.
For more information and tickets visit: http://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/jonah-and-otto/about