TOPDOG / UNDERDOG
SEVEN TYRANTS THEATRE, Studio 1398, 24th November - 3rd December
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Liz Gloucester
This was a real departure from Seven Tyrants' larger scale presentations both physically and theatrically. The intimate 1398 studio space was made even tighter by the claustrophobic one-room set which covered only a third of the stage. This dramatically reduced the playing area, lending extra tension to the two fully grown brothers fighting to co-exist in it. Theatrically, the classic Seven Tyrant's grotesque stock characters are gone. This is dramatic realism; and two lives intertwined by blood and circumstance are fully recognised and explored. This is no more observed than through the rhythm and timing of the two Acts. Every second seemed a real second, unlike the sped up reactions and time-lapsed judgements frequent on stage and screen. Writing this, I would not be observed to be 'having thought, checking notes, typing, deleting' – there are long periods of nothing: a real blankness in human expression which we experience everyday and are so rarely captured in performance for fear of being too dull or laborious, or perhaps it's just that most actors present and do not simply exist. Occasionally this can be mildly irritating; We watch several long and drawn out costume changes on stage, which have no particular pizzazz – but these are in fact very well thought out moments that further our suspension of disbelief. Not all scripts are written nor direction given to simply entertain the audience. One of Seven Tyrants' common ploys in past shows has been holding action a little too long to the point of audience frustration or awkwardness. And it delivers in spades here too. Another easter egg for long term fans of the company is the first appearance of elder brother Lincoln (played by Aadin Church), required by script to enter in his 'Honest Abe' costume complete with white face, a long running aesthetic of their archived repertoire.
'I stole, I stole generously'
Standout moments came from both performers. I particularly enjoyed the somewhere between magician and stripper sequence danced out by David Lloyd as younger brother 'Three-Card' Booth as he slowly peels off two new suits - complete with ties and shoes - that he has just 'boosted' from a fancy department store. The juxtaposition of 'Three Card's' nature from joyful optimist; decked out with skills, wit and jibes towards his brother and the world in Act One, to Act Two's dangerous down-hearted and down-trodden son who sees no other way out of his frustration than by the most extreme method is incredibly well exhibited. We see a similar shift occur, if slightly more subtle, in Lincoln; from more attentive and nurturing older brother to a man enamoured by the cards for which he has once again fallen hook, line and sinker. Church's focus and depth in his Lincoln monologue, detailing what he sees everyday at his job impersonating his namesake- little more than getting shot in a chair – and soon to be replaced by a wax dummy- is awe-inspiring.
The show went along at a decent clip, I was shocked at how the two and a half hours had flown by. This illusion was clearly aided by the magnificent three-piece jazz band playing an eclectic underscore beautifully crafted by Daniel Deorksen. Once or twice the actors did fall into the trap of taking on some of the score's beats and buttons within their dialogue which may not have been intentional but I would have questioned their humanity had they not – that sax was so mesmerising!
I applaud David Newham's decision to mount this play and his careful, meticulous direction which raised an already well sculpted Pulitzer prize winning script to dizzying new heights.
By George Duncan
Top Dog, Under Dog is produced by Seven Tyrants Theatre; a company that rarely puts a foot wrong and doesn't still with this fantastic production. They've staged it in the black box space of Studio 1398 and plunges us up close and personal to the lives of two brothers as they struggle with surviving on what little an “Abe Lincoln Impersonator” can make and what they can happen to steal & hoodwink from shops and people alike.
The two brothers, 'Lincoln' played by Aadin Church and 'Booth' by David Lloyd are extremely credible in their performances, each having stand out moments throughout the duration. Church, specifically with his description of seeing the tourists reflected upside down in a tool box across from him, as they one by one come behind to shoot him with blanks to fulfil the destiny of the Lincoln character. It's haunting, comical and the yearning for him to figure what his identity in life is hooks you in immediately with full-blown empathy for his situation. That situation being a black man with white face pretend-dying every day whilst impersonating the leader of the Union during the civil war who is about to be sacked due to automation. It's a clever plot point by writer Suzan Lori-Parks and brings with it a baggage of sympathy for the brothers and their quest for self-identity.
David Lloyd plays his character a little more unhinged and presses the action on with his demand to be taught cards by his brother. Booth is an act first, think about it later sort of character and Lloyd portrays this with fiery aplomb all the way through to the piece's dramatic conclusion. But despite the anger, the nefarious means that they want to cheat the system you never stop understanding them. Their actions make sense, their struggle chillingly real and credit goes to the actors who hold up the wonderful script by Lori-Parks and the direction David Newham brings in as well.
Newham's choice to not even fully use the whole space of Studio 1398 is curious when you first enter before the action starts. But as the story continues it begins to make perfect sense as it illustrates and further exaggerates the smallness and dinginess of the room in the centre of the stage that Booth has to share with Lincoln. The walls are squeezing in on them, trapping them until finally the room itself is a catalyst for the finale as well as the behaviour and actions of the characters themselves.
Overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre with very fine acting which is not always the case with indie theatre productions. Made even more so, with my prior lack of knowledge about the play and playwright. It's always a delight when the show goes above and beyond the ticket price.