I rather like Mike Bartlett’s work and so I thought what better way to spend a summer’s evening than reviewing SEDOS performance of Earthquakes in London at The Bridewell Theatre. Strangely empty, the populace had disappeared from the streets, hiding in front rooms and public houses, anticipating England’s chances to rekindle the glory of 1966. A quiet disappointment seemed to ooze through the carriages of my train home, their mistake clearly was watching the football rather than Earthquakes in London which left me feeling positively joyous that such a complex play could be recreated in such a small space in such a simple way.
The original production opened in August 2010 at the National to mixed reviews. At just over three hours, too long was the general view, and in fact Mike Bartlett trimmed it slightly before it went on tour. Miriam Buether won the 2010 Evening Standard Award for best set – a complicated curvy catwalk with swivel chairs. Congratulations to Sedos who do not need to credit a set designer as they managed the play with three chairs and an empty space in under two and half hours. Which just goes to show that really good writing stands on its own when given good actors, directed by someone with a little imagination in a beautifully lit space.
There are no weak links in this production which interweaves themes of parenthood, climate change, and corporate corruption. We see three daughters who have become estranged from their father battling their demons in different ways: Sarah, a lib-dem minister in a Tory government; Jasmine, a nineteen year old spiky, self-indulgent wild child, fighting the whole world single-handed and Freya, the middle sister, struggling apprehensively at the thought of bringing a child into a world that seems almost ephemeral as climate changes gradually raises sea levels and carbon emissions destroy the ability of small African countries to feed themselves. It takes a tragedy to bring the family together, however Bartlett leaves us with a sense of optimism that it is the children to come who will have learned from the mistakes of the past, and will provide an alternative way to live that might save our planet.
The three sisters contrast beautifully, with Carrie Pennifer’s tight-laced performance creating a character brusquely capable yet painfully aware of the fact that she is losing all those she loves alongside her principles. Izzi Richardson, as Jasmine, is both feisty and funny, the wonderful scene where she meets her father is perhaps my favourite moment of the production, with an achingly long silence, in true Pinter fashion, as they eye each other up and recognise themselves reflected in the other. Kimberly Barker, as Freya, allows her feelings of vulnerability to mix with tenderness and despair. Her relationship with Peter, later Emily, brilliantly played by Helena Bumpus, adds humour and later sadness as she reflects on the fear of bringing a child into this damaged world.
The four main male leads: Marcus Ezekiel as Colin, Sarah’s redundant husband, David Pearson as Steve, the frantic husband of Freya, desperately seeking answers, Hassan Govia as Tom, Jasmine’s one night stand who she uses to try to blackmail her sister and Paul Francis as Robert, the intelligent, idealistic, whiskey drinking father who has abandoned his children along with his ideals, at various points all manage to create a feeling of empathy through their contrasting characters. This is no mean feat as they are not all likeable characters, particularly the father.
The ensemble, who interchanged and interwove between the scenes helped to tie together the different episodes with an efficient fluidity and some excellent physical theatre. Without giving away any secrets the confidence and trust that has clearly been established between the members of the company is breathtaking. Particularly memorable is the beautifully choreographed scene as Freya walks the streets meeting a series of unpleasant characters, Lois Savill’s ability to turn a mango into a guava and Nadira Hussain’s entertaining presentation of Liberty.
Finally the last word has to go to Chris Davis, who had the vision to see how the show could be recreated in the Bridewell Theatre, found himself a tremendous cast and then created a visually inventive and entertaining production. England might be out of the World Cup but Earthquakes in London is still playing – get a ticket you won’t be disappointed.