Muddy reviews: Good Canary, Rose Theatre, Kingston
I didn’t know much, anything about the story of Good Canary before I went along to the Rose Theatre in Kingston last night. Except that it was directed by the Hollywood legend John Malkovich.
And before I say anything at all about the play, I gotta tell you that last night for a few hours I was in the same room John Malkovich. OMG! The actual John Malkovich. There he sat, over to my right, in the back row with a leather-bound notebook in his lap, his legs crossed, looking relaxed. Then we hear his voice, yes, that low deep drawl, telling us, the audience, to switch of our mobile phones.
This is the third time Malkovich has directed this play, but the first time in English after productions in French (in Paris) and Spanish (in Mexico). It’s had mixed reviews by the national press, but I thought it was flipping fantastic. It’s a tragicomedy written by Zach Helm, an American playwright and screenwriter who is best known for the 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction starring Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson.
The story centres around Annie (Freya Mavor – or Mini McGuinness from Skins) and Jack (Harry Lloyd). She’s a bright, outspoken twenty-something, self-destructive and dependent on amphetamines. He is her loyal and loving husband, who we discover has just become the toast of the New York literary scene after the publication of his first novel.
Freya is superb as Annie, portraying her with a wild and reckless air that is underpinned beautifully with her sense of fragility and insecurity. She is as dependent on Jack, and his devotion, as she is on her speed. Jack is dutiful, grounded and sensitive, subtly and intuitively played by Lloyd.
I don’t want to say too much about the story, lest I reveal crucial plot points, but the play tackles tough subjects – drug addiction, sexual abuse, eating disorders, mental illness, equality for women. It’s not cheery.
There is a scene at a New York dinner party where Annie rants – drunk and high – at the wife a top publisher (Sally Rogers). It’s both hugely funny, but also dispiriting and sad for what it portrays about the lives of both women.
The staging is clever and dramatic, impressively bringing Manhattan to Kingston with the use of large screens. And live piano music emphasises the mood in key scenes.
There is good support from Ilan Goodman as the angsty drug dealer, Steve John Shepherd (EastEnders’ Michael Moon) as the second string book publisher, Michael Simkins and Simon Wilson as publisher and reviewer respectively. But it is Freya who steals the stage in this production. And John Malkovich, of course – from his seat at the back of the theatre. Go and see it if you can, and let me know what you think.
Good Canary is on until Sat 8 October. Rose Theatre, 24-26 High Street, Kingston, KT1 1HL. Tel: 020 8174 0090. rosetheatrekingston.org