Matthew Tennyson as Penrose and Andrew Sheridan as Francis (c)
Over a weekend I saw Robert Holman’s A Breakfast of Eels, and Simon Stephens’ Carmen Disruption at the Almeida. The former was on the last day of its run and the latter at the second night preview, but both laid bare the core of the theatre building itself. The Print Room was a new venue for me. It’s a theatre built in an old cinema, but I got this lovely sense of going into a building of the past, where there are corridors to explore. We queued sat on seats waiting to go in, and there was a general feeling of not knowing where we would go – where we would enter the theatre -which I think added very much to the atmosphere. When we did enter down a slightly rundown passage, we were faced with a very steeply raked stage and this was strewn with apples.
On the evening, at the Almeida we were led into the theatre through the back stage area. Sharon Small (the Singer) in costume is in her dressing room, turning her head and smiling as we pass. I felt voyeuristic as if entering a forbidden area. The back theatre wall is visble and there’s rubble on the stage.
I booked to see A Breakfast of Eels because I had loved Jonah and Otto which starred Peter Egan and Alex Waldmann at the Park Theatre recently. What I’d really loved about that production was the way that the dialogue revealed things – some things you realised were true, whilst others were red herrings. Jonah and Otto brought these two strangers together, and at times there was very much a father and son relationship. In A Breakfast of Eels, we meet the two men (Penrose and Francis), and we believe they are brothers. It’s slowly revealed that one has come to the house to support the household with the maintenance of the house.
Like Jonah and Otto, the play takes us to different locations. We start in the garden, move into the house and travel to Northumbria and then back to Primrose Hill in London. The play has so many layers and twists it was enthralling. The brothers slowly swap roles and Francis goes through a transformation that reminded me of a similar transformation in Lucy Prebble’s The Effect. Francis seems to be the the more mature of the pair, but as the play progresses we see Penrose growing up.
Whereas A Breakfast of Eels showed two people responding to each other, Carmen Disruption explored connected people who were unable to connect. Characters moved through the city addicted to the various forms of social media: Facebook, snapchat, skype, twitter, Vine… One character’s phone runs out of power and she is alone, but yet she’s been alone all the time.
Carmen Disruption deconstructs the opera, Carmen, and it explore the theatre space itself. The bull on stage starts slowly moving. I felt myself looking to check that what I was seeing was really happening. The debris from the performance is scattered across the stage. There’s black tar seeping onto the stage which reminded me of Simon Stephens’ Birdland. Towards the end the wall of the side of stage opens and the foyer can be seen. It’s a visual delight and I was delighted by it all.
There were two very different productions, but I loved both.