This came as something of a bolt from the blue as a review opportunity for me – but one I grasped quickly. It’s been a long long time since I’ve had a good night at the theatre, and adaptations of great crime fiction novels are very rare.
So, when http://www.theculturevulture.co.Uk/blog and Theatre Royal Stratford East asked if I was interested in seeing Patrick Prior’s adaptation of Queen of Essex crime Martina Cole’s novel, The Graft, I was more than up for it.
I’ll start by saying that I’d never read the novel and I’d never been to this theatre – and boy, was I in for a treat on both fronts.
The theatre is a beautiful building, packed with history and photos from bygone productions. Set as it is within a lovely square alongside restaurants, bars and a Picturehouse Cinema complex, and just across from the tube station, it’s a venue I’ll be keeping my eye on for future productions – as well worth the short trip from central London.
The story, from what I’ve been told by Cole fans, is her typically dark style and certainly it had all the twists and dark turns that I’d recently seen in the television adaptation of her novel The Take.
She crafts her stories with a cunning eye, knowing just when to twist the tale again and again until the time comes when you start to wonder if there is any goodness left in any one of the characters on the page or, in this case, on the stage.
The author was in attendance on the night, but kept a relatively low profile in the restaurant next door until time came to take her seat – I’m sure she would have been more than happy with what she saw.
For me, having not read the novel, I was transfixed to the story – having no idea which direction it would go next. Starting with a break-in in Nick and Tammy Leary’s beautiful Essex home, their perfect life is shattered when Nick beats the young intruder with a baseball bat and the boy later dies in hospital. But from a dark beginning, with a blood-soaked Nick appearing on the stage, there is so much more darkness to come as, one by one, the people in Nick’s life begin to show their true selves and the reality of why their home was chosen and why by that particular intruder come shockingly to the forefront.
I wasn’t expecting a play that succeeds with such a clever and sparce stage to also include a large fireball explosion at one point or some of the most creative balletic fight sequences I have ever seen with the cast fighting in slow motion and beating each other to a pulp with baseball bats whilst red petals fall all around them – amazing scenes – like something out of a John Woo movie at times.
The cast were, without exception, excellent and with two of them playing two parts and the excellent Sheryl Gannaway playing three very different roles, it was amazing to see just eight people taking a bow at the end of a show which felt like it had been peopled by a great many more. Despite the dark themes, there is also plenty of humour throughout, much of it surrounding the ‘Essex’ lifestyle and the Lakeside shopping centre in particular.
Ex-Eastenders Marc Bannerman is top billed, but to be fair each and every one of the cast should be named above the title – they are all that good.
If you had told me the them of the story, I would have had reservations about going to see it – I went in with an open mind and eyes – and I came out totally, totally impressed.
Martina Cole’s THE GRAFT runs until 12th March 2011.
Suitable for 15+. Contains strong language and is not suitable for the easily offended.
For tickets and information go to http://www.stratfordeast.com
Many thanks to Emma at http://www.theculturevulture.co.Uk/blog and to Corinne and Tessa at Theatre Royal Stratford East.
Keith B Walters