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Virgin territory – three groundbreaking new plays



Review by Emma Whitelaw

CHELSEA-players present three new plays, Body Anonymous, Sid & Nancy and The Empty Chair as part of their Virgin Territory series at Baron’s Court Theatre.

All three plays are fascinating in their own unique way, all deal with everyday life, yet all are very different to the next.

Body Anonymous (pictured above), by Michael Hubbard, is an extraordinary tale about just one of London’s seven million people.

An evocative piece, it questions the anonymous existence so many Londoners lead.

How often do we brush past people on the street or on the Tube without ever stopping to think about where it is they are going, what it is that they are feeling? And does it even matter in the whole scheme of things?

It begins at the funeral of its protagonist, Mark Mitford, played by Laurence Jackson. The events leading up to his death are unravelled backwards – a refreshingly bold approach to plot development, I must say.

As the events unfold, we get snippets of the person Mark was and why it is that he took his own life.

Could it be he was driven to it by the haunting memory of an insane Aunt? Could it be that he couldn’t cope with the recent death of his lover, Will (played by the stunning David Wade)? Or perhaps there were darker forces at play?

Either way, he was clearly a very disturbed individual. He had friends but why couldn’t he confide in them? His suicide was as much a shock to them as the dark secrets that are revealed after his death.

Rachel Branton is superb as Mark’s flat mate, Jennifer. She knows full well that Mark is gay, yet hopes she can take their relationship a great deal further.

Her crush blinds her to the fact that Mark is no angel. He has some very undesirable acquaintances, one of which, Fredrik, played by the delightful Alexander Gordon Wood, poses as his landlord, but the reality is far more sinister.

Body Anonymous is as intriguing as it is complex. Its many themes are developed carefully and unveiled with precision. An emotive debut for writer, Michael Hubbard, and one which I hope gets the exposure it deserves.

The next in the series, Sid & Nancy, by Claire Simpson, is just as disturbingly real.

It is the story of two childhood sweethearts who, after many rocky years together, take to the final frontier, marriage – but is this the logical conclusion for a relationship that is so clearly hanging by a thread?

Eve-Marie Akers is superb as the emotionally fragile Nancy. She is truly a gifted actress and brings a complex sensitivity to the role that is both feminine and strong. It takes courage to admit when things are wrong.

To simply tolerate a failed relationship for the mere security of sticking together, like Bryan Ferry preaches in the opening scene, is to deny oneself of happiness.

Sid and Nancy is about real people and real relationships, yet it doesn’t seek to change the world or to make any bold statements.

But in a way it does, by exposing the damaging effects of complacency and highlighting the beauty that can be found in liberating oneself.

The final play in the series, The Empty Chair, by Lindy Henny, explores the dynamics and pathologies within a therapy group. Henny speaks with authority as she, herself, is a practising group psychotherapist within the NHS and high security prisons.

Notable performances would be those given by Fenella Hunt, as the confused lesbian, Chris, and Emma Slade, as the almost apathetic therapist Zoe.

Each group member has their own demons to exorcise, be it physical, sexual or mental. Their problems are unveiled through their various reactions to the absence of a member who is on the brink of suicide.

Virgin Territory began as an idea for a new writing showcase and has evolved into what I would argue to be a roaring success for all involved.

Virgin Territory: Three New Plays. Produced by Sarah Cottam and Michael Hubbard. Sound and Lighting by Sally McElhayer.

Body Anonymous written and directed by Michael Hubbard. Starring Laurence Jackson, Rachel Branton, Alexander Gordon Wood, Catherine Allison, David Wade and Lindy Henny.

Sid and Nancy written and directed by Claire Simpson. Starring Eve-Marie Akers, Duncan Pow, Victoria Osbourne, Eva Kostarelli, Nicky de Neumann and Peter Andrew.

The Empty Chair written by Lindy Henny. Directed by Rachel Goldsmith. Starring Susannah Lees, Peter Andrew, Francesca Nider, Emma Slade, Fenella Hunt, James Campbell, Joshua Rico.

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