Rakshita (Raks) Patel (rakspatel) wrote in mycroft_brolly,
Rakshita (Raks) Patel

Brimstone and Treacle by Dennis Potter, Arcola Theatre

Photo credit: http://www.brimstoneandtreacle.co.uk/

Cut and pasted from the Arcola Theatre Website:

SEArED in association with Arcola Theatre presents

by Dennis Potter
2 May 2012 - 2 June 2012

SEArED in association with the Arcola Theatres stages the first major London revival of Dennis Potter’s most controversial play. Renowned for being banned before transmission by the BBC, Brimstone and Treacle's glimpse into suburban paranoia, xenophobia and insularity is as revealing and relevant today as it was in the 1970s.

North London, Summer, 1977. As a nation prepares to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee, a middle-class, middle-aged couple struggle to come to terms with the incapacitation of their daughter following a hit-and-run car accident. Out of nowhere, an apparently respectable young man arrives on their doorstep to change their lives forever ...

A twisted allegory about fear, faith, morality, and the incomprehensible randomness of good and evil.

Find out more about the production and buy tickets here:

There is a separate website for this production of Brimstone and Treacle which is here:

Rupert Friend as Martin Taylor, Tessa Peake-Jones as Mrs Bates, Matti Houghton as Pattie Bates and Ian Redford as Mr Bates.
Photo credit: http://www.theartsdesk.com/theatre/brimstone-and-treacle-arcola-theatre

Raks's Reaction

I booked to see this production purely because I saw the original BBC adaptation of this play on Play for Today when it was first aired on television in 1987 and the play made a deep and profound impression on me. I only saw it the once, but it made an indelible imprint on my young mind (I was 17 at the time) and, all these years on, I still remember the key elements of storyline and plot.

I saw this yesterday (Monday 14 May) and it just blew me away. Theatre seems to be doing that to me a lot lately; especially fringe theatre productions. I loved everything about it.

The cast is exceptional. Rupert Friend is just perfect as Martin Taylor. He is so polished, handsome and charming, you can see how any mother (in this case Mrs Bates) would be completely taken in by him. I loved his little nods and winks and knowing looks to the audience; they really worked. It clearly signposted that Martin is not at all who or what he claims to be; he is a manipulative and devious so-and-so; whether he is also something above and beyond that is another matter! Ian Redford as Mr Bates has, in my opinion, the hardest job in the cast because he has to make a National Front sympathizer and a racist come across as a decent father and husband; a kind and caring person at heart. I think Ian really pulled that off; for me he focused on emphasising Mr Bates's innate decency and his overriding desire to protect his family and do his best for them.

Why this piece has stayed with me all these years is because it is so shocking. The way the creative team have adapted this for the stage makes it even more shocking. The Arcola is a small, intimate, theatre space. They have staged it so that the living room carpet comes right up to the seating. When you watch this on the television, as a television viewer, you are one step removed, the action is taking place elsewhere and there is a screen dividing you, the viewer, from the actors and the action. In this theatre, you as the audience are in that sitting room with those characters.

As an audience member, I found that challenging and difficult, because I felt that I was complicit in the rape and also in the discussions taking place on race. I was a passive spectator; I wanted to be an active participant! It is both challenging and difficult to see evil unfold in front of you and to let it run its course nevertheless. However, that is exactly what often happens in real life a lot of the time eg Nazi Germany. It is so much easier to sit by and do nothing than proactively intervene. By forcing me to become a passive spectator, the piece actually got me to think about when I would become an active participant ie at what stage, over what issue, what would I do, how would I challenge, what would I sacrifice?

I think this play is best experienced as a piece of theatre, not a piece of television, and is best experienced in a small intimate setting as it is given here. It is a domestic drama set in a living room and the theatre and the size of the audience needs to match the domestic setting to make it work.

The play exposes what goes on behind closed doors within families living in middle-class surburbia. What are the power dynamics between a husband and a wife, when the husband is the sole breadwinner, and the wife is the housewife, the mother and the carer? What does it feel like to be cooped up within one place, surrounded by the same four walls, for years on end? (both Mrs Bates and Pattie Bates have been in this one house, Pattie probably within the one room, for two years). They have had no contact with the outside world; in those days there was no internet, only television!. One of the greatest luxuries that Mr Bates has brought for his wife is a colour television. The television is the only "outside" world that Mrs Bates and Pattie have known for two years. Mrs Bates and Pattie are trapped in their domestic prison. Even Mr Bates does not really have a "life" as we would know it; he gets to leave the house everyday but only to go to work and back. That is an escape but not really a life! The power relationships, and abusive relationships, within a family, are brutally exposed and laid bare in this play. British family and domestic life, warts and all.

This production left the play with a much more ambiguous ending than I remembered from the television version. From memory, the television version includes a flashback sequence which shows what happens on that fateful day two years ago when Pattie is hit by the car. It puts its stamp on the play, and ensures the audience only reads it one way. In this production, the ending is left deliberately ambiguous, so that the audience can interpret the story for themselves, decide the backstory for themselves, and then write whatever future they want for the family. Haunted Child, which I liked so much earlier in the year, did the same. The advantage of this is that the audience gets to decide the ending for the characters, based on their own personal reading of the play, and that is what gives the piece its richness, depth and complexity.

There remains the perennial question - Who and/or what is Martin? Is he just a very accomplished conman out to get all that he can or is he, in fact, the Devil incarnate? Again, the TV version and the film hint in one direction; this production chooses to leave it ambiguous so you can make your own mind up. My own preference is to see him as the Devil because it just goes to show how much mischief the Devil can and will make given half a chance! It also shows how attractive, manipulative and charming the Devil can be!

This production, with its outstanding cast and high production values, is only on for a month in total so if you want to see it, you need to book up now!

Exceptional Acting. An Unusual and Unique play. Shocking. Challenging theatre that makes you think (all of that equally applies to The Custard Boys and Love, Love, Love). I am highly highly highly recommending this production.

I was so impressed and blown away by the production that the first thing I did when I got back was put some money behind it. This is the type of theatre that I, a London Theatre geek, wants to see in the heart and soul of the West End and on the fringe. If you see it, and like it, you can also help fund the production here:

Photo credit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/9246884/Brimstone-and-Treacle-Arcola-Theatre-review.html

Original BBC Adaptation

A truly excellent article on the original BBC adaptation, setting out the story of the play, why it was banned, along with a detailed social commentary and critique can be found here:

Photo credit: http://www.pricerunner.co.uk/pl/801-254578/DVDs/Brimstone-And-Treacle-(DVD)-Compare-Prices

You can buy the original BBC adaptation on DVD from Amazon here:
Tags: bbc, theatre, tv
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