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Bear with me: Sun Bear @ParkTheatre

If The Light House is an uplifting tale of survival, Sarah Richardson’s Sun Bear gives a contrasting take on this. Sarah plays Katy. We’re introduced to Katy as she runs through a list of pet office peeves with her endlessly perky coworkers, particularly about coworkers stealing her pens. It’s a hilarious opening monologue that would have you wishing you had her as a coworker to help relieve you from the boredom of petty office politics.  But something is not quite right in the perfect petty office, where people work together well. And that is her. And despite her protesting that she is fine, the pet peeves and the outbursts are becoming more frequent. As the piece progresses, maybe the problem lies in a past relationship, where Katy had to be home by a particular hour, not stay out late with office colleagues and not be drunk enough not to answer his calls. Perhaps the perky office colleagues are trying to help, and perhaps Katy is trying to reach out for help. It has simple staging

The male gaze: Turning the screw

It's been a while since trips to the theatre. I've been busy. But it's nice to see that it's the creative process that is at the heart of Kevin Kelly's Turning the Screw. And what gives rise to it. It's a dramatisation of the creative process leading up to composer Benjamin Britten's premiere of his opera, The Turning of the Screw. With deadlines approaching, Britten seems stuck over melodies and unsure about completing the piece for its summer premiere. But the selection of twelve-year-old choirboy David Hemmings in the leading role of Miles within the opera is the spark that motivates him to complete the piece. And his presence may stir other feelings, too. It's currently playing at the Kings Head Theatre

Britten's fascination with young boys has been the subject of a detailed book, Britten's Children. The book suggests that Britten saw himself as a young boy of 13. It's almost as if he saw himself as Peter Pan, albeit if Peter Pan was a world-famous twentieth-century composer with a slightly obsessive streak. 

The play sets out from the start that nothing untoward happened. Hemmings, who would later star in movies, stated on the record that was the case. But they did share a bed as he was scared of storms. 

The power play between the young David (played here by Liam Watson both as a young boy and later in life) and Britten (Gary Tushaw) against a backdrop of the creative process of bringing the opera together is at the heart of this piece. While there is an obvious power imbalance, young David also has power and influence over the composer. His friends tell him to enjoy his moment in the sun as it will be over. Indeed, he is dropped from the lead role after his voice breaks, and the two don't speak again. 

While in 1950s Britain, there may well have been a moral panic over homosexuality, it was also a time when there was respect for people in power. And an assumption that they were of a good moral standing. So, less of the drama is around the tension about scandal and more about the pressures Britten's fascination with youth has on both his output and those around him.

Watson portrays David as a young boy who might be scared by storms, yet on the other hand, he knows what his costume assistant can do with his inside leg. So he’s part worldly and otherworldly. 

The cast brings to life the tension of these power dynamics without feeling forced. And given the subject matter is about music and meaning, there is some fine singing too. The staging is simple, but this allows you to focus on the performances. 

The play can be challenging to put into perspective the power politics on show. After all, watching this in an era after numerous actual or potential child exploitation scandals makes it challenging to understand the time and the place where two gay men would host young boys for singing lessons at a house on the Sussex coast. And occasionally go swimming naked. But this piece tries to imagine a potentially more innocent period. 

Directed by Tim McArthur, Turning the Screw is at the new Kings Head Theatre until 10 March. The Kings Head Theatre is now next door and directly behind the pub of the same name. You enter and descend what seems to be an endless number of stairs with ever-changing lights (not something to try if you're easily dazzled by bright lights). Arriving at a basement space several times the size of its former venue, it is impressive both in its scale and flexibility for productions. And an endless supply of bathroom facilities will undoubtedly come in handy for those long runs. 


Photos by Polly Hancock


Finding my way around a new venue

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