Review: Unusual Unions, Royal Court

There’s something special about being allowed to take part in something unique and though Unusual Unions actually took place twice on the same day, it still counts as a one off in my book. Part of the Royal Court’s convention-busting The Big Idea stream of work, this was a collection of 5 short plays all responding to the ideas raised by Abi Morgan in her main house show The Mistress Contract, taking place in unexpected nooks and crannies of the theatre in wonderfully small groups.

From dressing rooms to stairwells, the space under the stage to meeting rooms with a view, it was a brilliant way of exploring a building which isn’t normally so open (Wilton’s Music Hall’s promenade version of Edmond fulfilled a similar purpose). And even if the subject matter seemed to veer off what one might have expected, given the sexual nature of Morgan’s play, it was still compelling stuff looking at the ways in which we connect (or not) with those around us. 

Sibling relationships were clearly playing heavy on the mind of the writing team as three of the five (including the first two we saw) used that as a starting point. Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s The Golden Hours saw a brother and sister reunited, after contentious beginnings, after their mother’s death. David Yip and Sarah Lam were both strong with Lam being particularly heart-breaking, the torrents of emotion under her carefully constructed façade impossible to ignore at close quarters.

Sarah Ridgeway delivered Rachel De-lehay’s My Twin on the staircase to the Upstairs theatre, a highly intimate monologue about her ever-so-slightly older twin brother and the hugely different ways in which they connect with their family. And Kieran Hurley’s Bruises put two brothers with hugely opposing views in direct conflict – Richard Rankin’s soldier squaring up to Brian Ferguson’s peace activist in one of the more intense moments.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s Anhedonia had a dark tone too as a woman struggled to come to terms with the sexual abuse she is hiding and unsure how to deal with the builder she is confronted with, Rona Morison and Nathan Osgood dealing sensitively with a brutal subject. And wrapping up a prolific start to 2014, Tom Wells’ Phil in Space was predictably the best of all, a Victoria Wood-esque comic monologue from an older man with a potential ladyfriend, slimming club membership and plans to build a rocket.

So interesting on all levels – the exploration of the building was great, the snippets of writing from some great playwrights always fascinating to hear, and some innovative direction from Adele Thomas, Rania Jamaily, Caroline Steinbeis, Simon Godwin and Richard Twyman making it an experience to treasure.

Running time: 105 minutes
Booking until 8th March

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