theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
Director Indhu Rubasingham is much in the news at present for taking over the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, London, and changing its name to the Kiln. Most of us are up in arms about this change. There is absolutely no reason for it. Click here to read more and sign the campaign in favour of retaining the venue’s original name. In the meantime, here is a review of a play she directed in 2007.
Pure Gold, a new play by Michael Bhim for Talawa Theatre Company and a Soho Theatre co-production, is billed as a play exploring the contemporary Black British experience. Take the play down to its bare bones, however, and at its core is a classic morality tale of temptation, relevant to any era and with universal relevance regardless of race, creed or colour.
Simon is a dad whose definition of being a father is to make elaborate, material gestures and promises to 12-year-old Anthony, his son, fivers in his pocket for the next day at school, a top-of-the-range piano for his birthday. Simon’s vanity prevents him from telling his son that he has lost his job. Marsha (Golda Rosheuvel), his long-suffering and patient wife, keeps the home together in their straitened circumstances. She scrupulously feeds the family and cleans the family home without losing her generosity of spirit to share their dinner with George (Leonard Fenton), their elderly neighbour.
Simon fails to attend an interview, and the play opens with Marsha fastidiously wiping, tidying and cleaning the kitchen, and asking how it went. Simon has every excuse in the book for why he didn’t go through with the interview, and it transpires that instead, he spent the time with his cousin, Paul, who Marsha clearly holds in healthy contempt. This is where the temptation comes in: Paul has offered Simon a job and the promise of big money and the potential to have the fast-car, flash lifestyle to which Simon aspires is irresistible despite Marsha’s misgivings.
Simon (Clarence Smith) is not a particularly endearing character. His idea of fatherhood is in the Bambi father mould: be there for the big moments and with the big gestures while leaving the daily care and nurturing to someone else. Simon insults his wife without realising he is doing so, he is self-centred for his own needs and obsessed with his own thwarted dreams, without sparing a moment to consider Marsha’s feelings. Above all, Simon rants about injustices yet does nothing to help himself. When George offers the family the chance to buy his flat at a snip of a price, Simon’s vanity turns him down.
Paul’s entrance is a welcome relief for the audience, having had just about as much of Simon’s self-pity as they can take. Paul (Mark Monero) oozes criminality with every move, with every divisive, charming method of persuasion he can muster to get Simon to take on the job. In comes Samuel (Dermot Kerrigan), the real man in charge, and the work is made explicit: people-trafficking is the game, driving’s the name. Simon is at first reluctant then swayed to accept by the stuffed brown envelope Paul throws down on the table; Simon picks up the gauntlet of temptation. There is no going back.
Golda Rosheuvel as Marsha is excellent as a loyal, loving wife and mother sticking by her men, yet her discreetly mannered movement has just a hint of the immense will-power it is taking Marsha to keep her emotions bottled up. Simon is the most detailed character in Pure Gold, having to choose between the people he loves and the temptation put before him via the superficial friendship of Paul and his associates. However, Clarence Smith doesn’t make the audience really believe the depth of Simon’s love for his family beyond seeing them as just more status symbols to tick off his list of aspirations.
Mark Monero is the one to watch in Pure Gold. He plays Paul with sleek nastiness, one moment enticing and then threatening. Monero’s presence inhabits the stage and this only goes to reinforce the way Paul takes over Simon’s home with the air of a predator preying on the weak. Leonard Fenton’s George has seen the whole world before; he might be old and frail but he is certainly not senile, and he is neither intimidated nor impressed by the giant chip on Simon’s shoulder. Dermot Kerrigan as Samuel has very little to do besides be a calculating, cold criminal and Louis Ekoku as Anthony is a child actor acting his way fastidiously through a part.
The drama is played out in the kitchen/living room of the family’s high-rise flat with its views of Canary Wharf, a visual irony of the wealth divide, so close and yet so far: you can look but don’t dare to touch.
Emotional deliberations ensue, temptations abound, and Paul’s ugly, utterly manipulative side is made explicit in a violent climactic fight when Simon tries to bow out of the job.
Marsha does not know what Simon’s job is, but she is astute, and obviously can put two and two – or Paul and sudden money – together. The play ends with the final choice of path placed firmly in Simon’s hands. He leaves the job or loses his family. Marsha’s head falls into her hands, her emotion spills out and she weeps. Pure Gold ends.
It is interesting how a small nuance from an actor, or a slight adaptation of script, can alter a play’s entire mood. Marsha’s soft despairing tears are tears of loss. Simon is a leopard who will not change his spots however good his intentions. The written script suggests otherwise, implies an upbeat, optimistic end. The brief, written epilogue shows the family in domestic harmony in the not too distant future. The original script version is a feel-good version, the stage version at Soho Theatre is the far more probable reality.
Evie Rackham © 2007
Originally published on R&V 00-00-00
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