Sunday, 28 May 2017

REVIEW: Jam at Finborough Theatre

The Finborough Theatre has a small but mighty reputation, and gives the impression of a highly curated programme under the artistic leadership of Neil McPherson (I Wish to Die Singing, 2015 and It is Easy to Be Dead, 2016 nominated for 13 awards including an Olivier). Matt Parvin, the writer of Jam, was part of the Royal Court Young Writer’s Programme and similar at the Arcola and Orange Tree Theatre. As such, I was looking forward to a strong debut ensconced by an award-winning venue, probably London’s finest example of ‘a theatre above a pub’. The only other thing I knew about this play, was that it was about a pupil-teacher relationship that goes wrong, and I was interested to see what Parvin had to contribute. 

The black box stage felt claustrophobic and slightly oppressive, particularly in the round. A large red structure like a climbing frame was the only set and as we took our seats Bella, played by Jasmine Hyde (Not Moses at Arts Theatre and Pericles RSC), sits on a plastic school chair seemingly marking or taking notes. Her clothes and demeanor are unmistakably teacher-like and Hyde does an excellent job at maintaining this persona throughout the action (complete with classic world-weary view and sense of regret at not choosing a more rewarding profession). The ex pupil - Kane - is played by Harry Melling (King Lear at The Old Vic and Hand to God Vaudeville Theatre), who brilliantly succeeds in drawing a complex and highly wrought individual, damaged and deranged, but likeable enough to keep us wondering if he really is guilty, and to add serious complexity to the moral layering of the story. 

The action takes a little while to get going, but soon the push and pull between the two actors veers skillfully between threat and vulnerability, power and weakness, anger and calm, and later in the play tenderness and genuine conviviality. Parvin keeps us in anticipation as past events take a while to come out, however to my mind the incident itself was slightly anticlimactic and probably not something that would have uprooted a whole life. At the risk of advocating gratuity, I couldn’t help noticing that any sexual undertones were not just ignored but simply not there – considering Kane’s age and stage of life this didn’t sit quite right. 

Although the dialogue was excellent and the script clearly well written, the social investigation offered by the collision of two people from very different walks of life could have been more fruitful. Both characters paint their respective social backgrounds, with discussions of sibling dynamics and career choices; there is even some ‘middle class guilt’ leaked from Bella with promises of social mobility for Kane. However if these politics were enough to inform the turbulent course of events I wasn’t wholly convinced. As the shared incident seemed weak and
the character’s motivation wooly, I didn’t especially care about these people and as such the overly dramatic ending seemed slightly bathetic. 

One thing the piece definitely had going for it was suspense. Credit to Hyde and Melling’s strong acting skills the tension between the pair was taught for the whole duration, and as an edge-of –your-seat drama the piece worked well. For me the emotional life or social commentary didn’t go right through, but if thrillers are your thing this is a decent show. 

Review by Anna Williams

Rating: ★★★
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