Monday, 1 September 2014

Theatre review: Autobahn at The King's Head Theatre‏


About: Regarded as one of the most celebrated American playwrights, Neil LaBute has enthralled audiences all over the world with his layered characters, sharp dialogue and subtle social commentaries. Savio(u)r return to the King's Head Theatre after the success of 2013's Our Town with the London premiere of LaBute's play, Autobahn, directed by Off-West End Award nominee Tim Sullivan.

This short-play cycle follows colorful, complicated people making their way across America's highways and their stops, starts, and stalls along the way. The London cast includes Sharon Maughan (Holby City, The Bank Job, She's Out of My League), Henry Everett (Michael Grandage's A Midsummer Night's Dream), Tom Slatter (Robot Overloards), and Zoë Swenson-Graham (Our Town).

Rating:


A few months ago I saw Bash: The Latter Day Plays at Trafalgar Studio 2, which was a fascinating production comprised of three short plays by American playwright Neil LaBute. The setting was simple yet effective with two actors on stage playing out the scenes while sat down and facing the audience. Without the distraction of lavish set pieces and an abundance of props, the audience was able to focus solely on the solid performances and the fantastic writing.

So while I was unfamiliar with LaBute's Autobahn before seeing the production by Savio(u)r Theatre Company at The King's Head Theatre on Thursday 28 August, when I read that it would be seven short plays I did already have an idea of what the set-up would be like. The two plain chairs from Bash had been replaced by a prop car (or half of a car, at least), but other than that the formula was very much the same, with each play consisting of two actors playing out a scene that while seemingly unconnected still all bore the same underlying themes.


Zoë Swenson-Graham and Sharon Maughan (c) Scott Rylander

As soon as the first play started, a one-sided conversation from a hyperactive young woman to her stoic mother, I was impressed by actress Zoë Swenson-Graham who took on the role of the daughter. Talking many miles an hour in her monologue she gave an astonishing performance and my initial impression was reinforced throughout the evening as she swiftly moved through a range of different characters with ease, from crazy stalker-girlfriend to naive teenage schoolgirl. While all four actors on stage were very good indeed, it was Zoë that undoubtedly stole the show for me.

The seven plays varied in quality, but all managed to be thought-provoking in one way or another and despite their darker nature they were surprisingly funny too. The aforementioned crazy girlfriend was hands down my favourite of the bunch, but I also enjoyed the play in which a husband discovers his wife's outrageous activities at her latest conference. And the story in which a teenage girl is being driven to a predictably horrible faith by a pervert teacher who invited her for a trip to his remote cabin was greatly disturbing yet also compelling and memorable.


Henry Everett and Tom Slatter (c) Scott Rylander

After the play we were fortunate enough to join a Q&A with director Tim Sullivan as well as fellow artistic director of Savio(ur) Theatre Company and actress Zoë Swenson-Graham, in which they spoke about their passion for bringing American theatre to the UK and their plans to do the exact opposite next year. British audiences don't have to worry about them moving to the US permanently though, as they're already thinking about what they'll be staging in London after. Tim was also asked what it was like to be working with three new actors this time around and he called them "fucking incredible", which says it all really. 

This was my first visit to The King's Head Theatre, an intimate space at the back of a pub in Islington, and it most certainly won't be the last if they continue to put on such quality productions. I will however bring plenty of ice-cold water next time around as the heat inside the small space, combined with the hard benches, made it rather uncomfortable inside. There was a request for contributions before the play started during which we were told they need to raise £100k each year just to keep going. And maybe, one day, they'll even be able to afford air-con! So when you see the collection bucket during your visit, be sure to relief your pockets of any spare change you may have.

Many thanks to Official Theatre for organising an outing to see the play and giving me the chance to discover a wonderful London venue in the process.

Autobahn is running until 20 September 2014, you can buy tickets here.

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