Star rating: ***
2 Bath Road
London W4 1LW
A Quassau Theatre Company production
10th – 13th June 2015
Reviewed: Friday 12th June 2015
Dr Ivan is a man looking for answers with a keen sense of history. He is looking for the perfect woman but his research is his real passion. He is ably assisted by the socially awkward Kaiser who idolises his success with women. Has he found his match in doll obsessed Jodie? This play is a dark absurdist comedy which looks at whether we are progressing or are we doomed to repeat history time and again. Charlotte Jennings’ play was presented at The White Bear Theatre in 2014. It was also presented at The Cockpit Theatre in a condensed version in 2013.
Directed by Baris Celiloglu
Produced by Charlotte Jennings
Tiemo Talk of the Town review
Strangers Welcome is a curious Black comedy drama starring Dr Ivan, as A Doctor straight out of the Dr Harold Shipman medical school of patient care. In other words he’s a murdering psychopath with a strange and unexplained penchant for bumping of strangers for the most trivial of reasons imaginable.
The play explores a myriad of themes from relationships, finding “the one”, possession-obsession, friendship to politics and history. At just under 2 hours duration it is far, far too long and suffers from darting all over the place from murder, to farce, to comedy, to politics and onto history. The aims are worthy and noble but it’s just too much crammed into one play.
This could be a brilliant 1 hour+ show if tightened up and would be worthy of the Edinburgh Fringe. Certain scenes are repetitive and could be cut out, for instance the repeated scenes of Jodie trying to win back Chris. Some of the repetitive murders could have been cut out too. Writer and Producer Charlotte Jennings could possibly even get two separate plays out of this production.
Ironically for a long play, there were also too many short scenes of a few minutes duration which didn’t really go anywhere or add much to the dramatic development of the story.
There is a weird mix of Dr Josef Mengele, Hitler and Harold Shipman inspired evil in Dr Ivan who is busy engaging in his own form of eugenics.
The play was very well acted, with a stand out performance from Jodie (Louise Lingwood) as the mad as a hatter, bunny boiler girlfriend turned ex-girlfriend who doesn’t get the hint that it’s over. The fact that this might be the logical consequence of the utterly heinous attack on her ex-boyfriend Chris (played by Jide Ashimi) seemed to completely escape her. In a way, a lot of her scenes were quite oddly funny as you watch her carry on as if nothing had happened.
Talking of boiling, it felt like the audience were being boiled like cabbages in the Tabard Theatre. It’s a lovely, intimate little theatre, but suffers from dreadful air conditioning and on hot days (and the day I saw this it was the hottest day of the year at 27c) it was incredibly humid inside. In addition, the gaps between seats seem more designed for little children than grown adults, making it a bit uncomfortable unless you are tiny or had space to turn your legs to the side.
I think the play missed a trick and devise for dramatic tension in not making this partially a crime play, the obvious thing to do when you have a doctor randomly murdering healthy people in the course of his everyday work. I can only presume the author instead wanted the audience to focus more on working out what Dr Ivan’s motivation was and to focus more on the theme of “whether we are progressing or doomed to repeat history time and again.”
The NHS and immigration are just two of the hot political potatoes thrown into the mix towards the end of the play.
Whether or not the play highlighted whether the human race is progressing or not is another matter. I don’t think the play really conveyed that theme especially well as it would be an odd way of doing so via an oddball Doctor. Notwithstanding that, this was a very interesting, if over long production that showed a lot of promise and for a first play from Charlotte Jennings it is highly commendable.
Review © Tiemo Talk of the Town
Strangers Welcome is on at the Tabard Theatre with a final show at 7.30p.m. on Saturday 13th June 2015.