Saturday, 5 March 2016

Review Merit

by Alexandra Wood

Spanish Inquisition

A mother and daughter circle each other  like bull and matador in this spare, deliberately rhetorical modern take on a "restoration" play .

Underlying an apparently unspecific play, couched clues emerge anchoring arguments in an analysis of Spanish historical and current day complexities.  

For this two-hander examines what is meant by merit in a country riven between a modern economic democracy and a conservative hierachical restored monarchy inextricably linked to the theology of the Catholic church.

Written originally as a response to the economic crisis in Spain, playwright Alexandra Wood chooses to focus on  two women sparring over what had been traditionally male domains:  employment, finance and politics.

But the men here, a father, an employer, an uncle and a cousin, never appear and we have to rely solely on the women's perspective adding an air of mystery and distrust to the mixture.

Recent graduate Sofia (dark-eyed Ellie Turner) has landed "the job of her dreams" outdoing her contemporaries mired in unemployment. But from the start her mother Patricia (Karen Pascoe) immediately interrogates her like a suspicious heckler at a public meeting.

Gradually, on a traverse stage - flanked by two Japanese screen-like walls - with flecked marble ground and steps designed by Philip Lindley,  we learn more from glacial splinters of conversation. 

Sofia's job is for a leading merchant banker in the glass fronted soaring towers of the financial district, ringed by armed security guards. As paternal job loss and threat of foreclosure loom, Patricia unable to find a job resorts to political activism.

The actors keep the debate taut and cutting and at eighty minutes it's a piece which never outstays its welcome.

There is a touch of Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead in Merit, although the humour is somewhat downplayed in Tom Littler's production.  Music, mirrored costume changes and lowered blue tinged lighting (sound: Max Pappenheim, lighting: Rob Mills) divide somewhat awkwardly ten staccato scenes mixing detective story with dialectic.

There's an emphasis on opposition and argument at the expense of the wit and the meditation on class and money. Still, at a time, when even in the acting profession the nature of merit has come under scrutiny, this play may still have the potential to strike a nerve, so an amber light for an intriguing piece.

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