Review: Top to Bottom, White Bear Theatre

“One night with your face down in the pillow doesn’t make you less of a man”

Kennington’s White Bear Theatre has been at the mercy of a considerable overhaul of its parent pub over the last few months, but has now been relocated upstairs in a brand new space and a resumption of its programming. That includes development nights in their Sunday/Monday slot for emerging theatre companies and first up is Tripped Theatre Company with Top to Bottom by Lewis Chandler.

Playing out in real time, it starts off as a dinner party gone awry. Alison and Jeff have gone over to Mark and Tom’s for dinner and as they knock back glasses of wine and amuse-bouches, both couples seem to be getting on fine. But a chance remark from Alison shatters the mood and instead of tucking into their main course, the foursome carve up each other as accusations and acrimony dominate the air.

Then as quickly as the argument blew up, Alison and Jeff are out the door. But the aftershocks of the evening prove to be just as disruptive as the main event as fault-lines in Mark and Tom’s relationship are laid bare and painfully excavated. Chandler’s shifting of the narrative from heterosexual prejudice – what it’s ok for straight people to say to gays, to put it bluntly – to probing at internalised homophobia – what can the gays get away with saying to each other – is thus fascinatingly done.

As a work-in-progress, Top to Bottom certainly shows promise and at just 45 minutes long, still has plenty room to develop in both of its halves. The indignation of Louisa Smith’s Alison, outraged at what she sees as a misinterpretation of an innocuous remark, could be pushed even further, especially from the feminist angle which is touched on briefly. And the already vivid clash between Mark and Tom, both well played by Joseph Blunt and Edward Tidy respectively, could yet go harder and deeper.

Directed by Georgia Leanne Harris, the play has a lot that is interesting to say, especially around taking ownership of potentially offensive language versus just taking offence, and also in its look at notions of learned (homo)sexual behaviour, something that is rarely discussed. There’s a slight issue in the idea that Mark and Tom have apparently never talked about their sexual history despite being together for several years, the one time that credulity is stretched but otherwise, a promising start for the new White Bear and Tripped. 

Running time: 45 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 28th November

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