The Ruffian on the Stair

Tue 8th – Sat 12th October 2013

reviews

Jenni Reid

at 10:10 on 9th Oct 2013

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Originally written by Joe Orton for radio, this one-act play is not often performed, and it was a brave choice on the part of the Dryden Society to choose it to kick off a new year at the Playroom. It’s not an instant crowd pleaser, nor is it an easy piece to pull off; but although I never felt myself fully drawn into this strange world inhabited by an ex-prostitute, a sinister hairdresser and a bullish Irishman, part of the efficacy of the Ruffian on the Stair comes through never letting us feel quite at ease with the events which unfold. It is the type of play ideally suited to the Corpus Playroom – intimate, intense and claustrophobic, allowing a certain creepiness to hang in the air throughout. This production has clearly been put together with care and attention, but nonetheless remained recognizable as a student production, despite moments of professionalism.

The play opens on Mike and Joyce, a middle-age couple who have been together for two years. Billed as a ‘darkly comic nosedive into 1960s Britain’, we sense a clash between the everyday and the surreal from the very beginning: “I’m to be at King’s Cross station at eleven. I’m meeting a man in the toilet.” “You always go to such interesting places!” What is already a discomfiting dynamic is thrown into chaos with the arrival of Wilson, a mysterious figure who charms his way into their lives with the promise: “I’m not coloured – I was brought up in the Home Counties.”

The actors seemed to take time to find their feet and comfortably inhabit the stage. Tom Stuchfield’s Irish brogue was a little difficult to understand at first, and both he and Kim Jarvis as Joyce didn’t have enough of an air of maturity to make the contrast between the older couple and the young, attractive Wilson come across. Meanwhile George Longworth as the manipulative Wilson was brilliant in moments, but his presence often lacked menace when it shouldn't have. Meanwhile, as a window into the working class there also something missing; I was never quite convinced I was watching an ex-boxer thug and an ex-Prostitute in an inner city London dive.

A short, sharp and powerful piece which raises more questions than it answers, it was pleasing to see director David Rattigan keep this production to its original period and location, without gimmicks or alterations (one slight exception was the use of music, which ranged from dramatic cinematic scores to perky Big Band, on the whole providing an inventive and effective backing). Entertaining but not exceptional performances from the cast prevented the Ruffian on the Stair from being a truly stand-out show; but there is no doubt that these characters will linger in the minds of the audience for some time.

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