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I always look forward to Elle Knights’s Intimate Theatre productions, here not least for the elegance of her chosen venue, the eighteenth century ballroom of the George Hotel, but always for the sheer intelligence of her chosen plays.
First offering The Sound Of Silence was a monologue in which a nameless French cabaret singer pours out her anguished and obviously unrequited need for her silent lover who in the course of her tirade comes home to their shared hotel room, undresses, reads the paper, has a nap and leaves without a word. He’s what used to be called a “heel”, and there’s a fair bit of “used to be” about this unashamedly nostalgic evening. Because women aren’t supposed to be like this any more, having their existence defined solely by what Q. Crisp called “the myth of the great dark man.” But when we reflect this was written by the gay artist Jean Cocteau in the fifties for tragic Parisian singer Edith Piaf whose unhappy career contained the obligatory drug dependency and gangster boyfriends it does seem to fit. A modern writer would have to be distance this somehow – say by giving the words to a drag queen. But plus ca change – famously out gay singer Rufus Wainwright’s new opera premiering in Manchester this week concerns a diva in bits before her next performance, and guess what – it’s written in French, making Elle’s choice of this 80 year old play strangely circular and presciently up to date.
As the cabaret star Mandy Davies in a dress that was sexily almost no dress at all had the verve to carry off this exercise in self deluding hysteria, while Ian Henderson as the silent lover was every inch what used to be known as a bad hat, the type women were said to adore.
Jonathan Holloway’s The Dark was an exercise in nostalgia too, at least for me – does anyone ever read Dennis “The Devil Rides Out “ Wheatley now? This was a sinister little thriller set on a windy, Northumberland New Year’s Eve in which a group of friends come together to celebrate the season and ended in entrapment, murder, and the buying and selling of souls. There was something unsettlingly unpleasant in Graham Nicholls’ oily tempter Simian Black from the beginning, while Ian Henderson was touchingly vulnerable as the unsuspecting victim of his wiles. Newcomer Christopher Scott compelled attention as his second, less sympathetic victim, a horror writer who ironically scorns the consequences his own visits to the dark side with chilling results. One to watch. Amanda Dufaye as the already-fallen Emma brought a flash of real glamour, showing exactly what the victims got for their bargain, and how unsatisfactory, even tormenting, the sale of a soul would turn out to be. Elle’s direction brought a wintry chill to a summer evening, proof that theatrical magic can always transcend mere place and time.