In the last decade, the presentation of exhibitions and performances in dismissed venues has seen its status changing from pioneering to mainstream. Long gone are the times when companies like Secret Cinema and Punchdrunk were considered ground-breaking for introducing the rescue of abandoned buildings as a significant part of their mission. 2015 was the year that saw London Fashion Week move from the spacious courtyard of Somerset House to the low ceilings of Brewer Street Car Park and the derelict 180 Strand become a sanctuary for designers and arts exhibitors alike. Therefore, it didn’t come as a complete surprise when Soho Theatre announced the launch of a pop-up space in the heart of the West End, at the top of the building that originally housed the Central St Martins School of Art.
Fool for Love is the last play of a year-long project that will see the doors of Found111 closing indefinitely on 17th December 2016. As a swansong, producer Emily Dobbs proposes a modern classic by American playwright Sam Shepard, which takes an insight into the tormented relationship between May (Lydia Wilson) and Eddie (Adam Rothenberg).
We are in a shabby motel room in the middle of the Mojave Desert and Eddie has just come to visit his long-time lover May, after having been away for several months. She’s apparently upset and their dialogue unrolls between aggressive fits and moments of emotional surrender. May is making a desperate attempt to get rid of Eddie before her date Martin (Luke Neal) arrives to pick her up but Eddie is a hot-blooded Southern man and he won’t let her go so easily. The conversation is occasionally interrupted by the comments of the Old Man (Joe McGann) who turns out to be key for the full unfolding of the plot.
Director Simon Evans – formerly one of the names behind Secret Cinema –might still have a soft spot for plays of cinematic flavour hosted in disused buildings and I can see his touch in a show that feels like one of those uncouth Hollywood dramas. The only difference is that between me and the actors there isn’t a screen but another row of chairs and, on the floor, what seems to be a layer of cold tarmac. The public is very close to the action but Fool for Love is far from being immersive. It is indeed site-specific, though, and set designer Ben Stones makes the best use of the L-shaped room with a large concrete pillar right in its middle. The space is quite evocative and the choice of costumes and props receives a high attention to detail.
The loud soundtrack at the beginning and at the end of Fool for Love is another cinematographic reference, marking the place for titles and credits. Every noise within the performance is enhanced. Doors slam loudly, glasses hit hard on the table, people scream and steps behind the front door resonate in the room.
The cast is studded of names better known for their screen work on both sides of the Pond but their well-measured gestures – trained for the camera – could be easily mistaken for a lack of expressivity. Personally, I’ve enjoyed watchingthem and the very unusual feeling that their technique transmits. It’s as if I was there but they couldn’t see me and their perfectly rehearsed scenes carried on as pre-recorded material, unconcerned about the little crowd on the opposite side of the fourth wall. Their detachment suggests professionalism, although not in the way that a regular theatre audience would expect. Star of the evening is Adam Rothenberg, who offers a charismatic impersonation of Eddie and leads the rest of the cast towards a solid delivery.
Like a good film, Fool for Love is a play that I could watch again and again, discovering some new features to enjoy every time.
Review by Marianna Meloni