Through Alistair McDowall’s trilogy of short plays, Kate O’Flynn confirms herself one of our finest actors in all of it at the Royal Court
“I don’t think I’ve ever once had a poetic thought”
You can’t quite believe that any of us lucky to catch the limited run of all of it in early 2020 were thinking that what Kate O’Flynn needed on top of a 45 minute monologue of extraordinary verbal dexterity was an additional two short plays. But such is the creative relationship between O’Flynn and writer Alistair McDowall that he has indeed written this trilogy for her, returning to the Royal Court now and then off to the Avignon Festival in July.
First up is Northleigh, 1940, a structurally intriguing tale of a father and daughter bonding as they wait for bombs to fall, sandwiched between complex verse passages of alienating strangeness. Directed by Sam Pritchard and lit beautifully by Elliott Griggs in Merle Hensel’s tight letterbox set design, it’s a bold opener which really plays off the unexpected – the shadows on the wall, the reveal of the table, the questioning oddity of the text.
Pritchard also helms In Stereo, substantially different as O’Flynn’s pre-recorded voice accompanies her portrayal of an older woman living alone and pre-occupied with a damp spot on the wallpaper of her bedroom. Melanie Wilson’s sound design amplifies the atmospheric weirdness as the voice(s) disconcert and disorient, the corrosive effects of loneliness pushed to alarming effect in a finale that lingers long in the mind.
Last up is the reprise of all of it, directed again by Vicky Featherstone and featuring O’Flynn and McDowall at their unquestioned best. A rapid-fire race through a woman’s entire life, it is profound, hilarious and punishingly sad. As O’Flynn perches on her stool, mike to the mouth, you marvel at ingenuity of both writing and performance, detailed mundanity never sounded so interesting and yet the moments of silence carved out of the wordplay at moments of desperate sadness are stunning. The overall effect is simply mesmerising, this is world-class theatre.