The European premiere of JT Rogers’ Madagascar arrives at the Theatre 503 in Battersea for a run until 5th June presented here by a co-ordinated effort between Primavera and Le Nez Productions. After Anyone Can Whistle and The Rivals already this year, Primavera are turning into a bit of a must-see producing house for me and when I heard my favourite of the Cusack sisters had been cast in this play, I knew that I would be trekking south of the river for this.
Madagascar takes place in a hotel room opposite the Spanish Steps in Rome and is narrated by three different characters, all affected by the disappearance of a young man. His mother Lilian appears five years ago at the point of the incident, his sister June relates the tale from a few days ago and Nathan, Lilian’s adulterous lover, is there in the present. Although they occupy the same space, they are each there alone, as they tell their stories and the monologues weave around each other, dealing with the pain of loving others, whether that’s filial, parental or conjugal love and how these relationships can horribly wrong.
What makes the evening really sing though is the sheer quality of the acting. I’ve long been a fan of Sorcha Cusack and she did not disappoint as the domineering mother with her classy facade that doesn’t quite cover the complexity and indeed darkness of the persona beneath, hints of which break through at key moments in flashes across Cusack’s face. But I was equally impressed with Miranda Foster’s fragile June, tormented by grief but also perhaps grateful for the sense of purpose given to her through tragedy and Barry Stanton’s gruff but amiable economist.
Colllectively they wove together their stories and really made us care for these characters, making Madagascar as much a study in the impact of grief on those left behind as a mystery about the disappearance of a man and this makes the play considerably stronger than it might have been in a weaker production. Whereas the writing is intricate in relating the three time zones and poetic in the imagery it creates that resonates throughout, it’s a little too clever at times and keeps the audience at a bit of a distance: very rarely do we have the opportunity to lose ourselves in the true emotion of a scene and it is a real credit to the three actors that we do invest in these people.
Creatively it is extremely strong: Tom Littler clearly recognises the weight of the talent here and so has carefully employed a minimum of distractions around the actors. The faded glamour of the hotel room is evoked through the lovely burnished silver walls, a bed, bedside table and a desk the only furniture in Morgan Large’s subtle design, Will Reynolds’ lighting is excellent in smoothly and efficiently transitioning between the time periods and Jamie Beamish’s haunting cello-based score perfectly sets the contemplative mood.
Altogether I found Madagascar a very satisfying night at the theatre. Whilst I may have found Rogers’ writing a little too clever, there is no denying that he is possessed of some extraordinary skill: the way in which he obliquely reveals information is delightful, the way in which the characters are related for example and the way in which the competing theories for the disappearance are built up and floated as possibilities. Combined with some of the best acting currently on the London stage and a fabulous design aesthetic, Theatre 503 have themselves a winner, book a ticket now!
Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: 50p