REVIEW: ‘Now, it’s… Noir Theatre!’

John Foster and Noir Theatre (First Draft at the Charing Cross Theatre, 22 January 2012)

“There is film noir, noir on TV, every kind of literary noir you care to name,” John Foster once remarked. “But where is noir in the theatre?” It’s a pertinent observation from a man with a long career in TV drama, one that includes scripts for Z-Cars, Softly Softly and The Bill, not to mention a BAFTA award for his BBC Omnibus programme on Raymond Chandler. Crime fiction in the theatre often seems confined to Agatha Christie adaptations and murder mystery evenings at the local arts centre. It is a situation that Foster, over the last few years, has been trying to remedy, alongside his busy life as a lecturer in screenwriting at Bournemouth University’s Media School (and elsewhere), .

Vigilante, his latest effort, self-contained but part of a work in progress, premiered last week at the small but lively Charing Cross Theatre underneath the eponymous station. The piece was included in First Draft, a programme of new writing organised by A Friend of a Friend, a new theatre venture run by Frank Osborne and Susanna Narvaez.

Like so much of this type of hardly funded theatre, sets are minimal or non-existent, throwing even greater emphasis on writing, staging, and performance. It says much for the general level of interest throughout the evening that longueurs were few and far between.

Two items particularly stood out. Wildehouse, a farcical Jeeves/Wooster parody given a venal 21st century makeover, had its Wooster equivalent Samuel Wildehouse (played by an appropriately OTT Dominic Rye) and his smoothly sinister manservant Reinhart (Canavan Connolly), having dealt with the traditional formidable aunt with some finality, forced to defend their bachelor establishment against hordes of violent revolutionaries. Effectively performed and sharply written (by Robin Johnson), the able direction by Alex Mack kept the whole piece nicely on the boil.

Foster’s Vigilante, the evening’s opening item, was a thought-provoking two-hander debating the nature of modern justice. Inspired by an incident connected with Moors murderer Ian Brady, the play, directed by Sam Snape, is a confrontation between a convicted killer and the desperately grieving husband/father of two of his victims. Colin Jonathan Appleby embodied the banality of evil as the killer, wrong-footing a distraught and bewildered Matthew Jure as the man, through revenge, seeking to give what remains of his life some shape or meaning. The ‘resolution’ of the drama was sudden, shocking – and as ‘noir’, in the best sense of the word, as they come.

Vigilante is the latest from John Foster’s Doppelganger production company. Previous work includes Little Boy, dealing with Major Claude Eatherley, the American who gave the all-clear for the bombing of Hiroshima, and which was staged in London and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2008 as The Murder Monologues, in a double bill with Sheila West’s Chocolate Cake. Other recent work includes Five Go Killing and The Murder Wife. Forthcoming is Chummy, another ‘noir’, along with Death of a Model Citizen, Before Turning the Gun on Myself, and, a new departure, Hap, “a dark comedy”.

If John Foster has anything to do with it, noir theatre is on its way. Watch this space…

by Bob Cornwell

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