NO QUARTER by Polly Stenham
Duelling Productions, Network Theatre
Tree-climbing, exploring, scraped knees, mysterious hidden worlds of our own, no grown-ups allowed; we all look back with nostalgia on our childhoods, often tinting them with colours and emotions entirely of our own construction. However, for No Quarter’s protagonist Robin, this Famous Five fantasy is real. Far from being idyllic, it comes with a crippling loneliness, a constant alienation from the world around him, and a somewhat faulty capacity for empathy. No Quarter uses one boy’s descent into chaos as a way to ask hard questions about family, society, and morality, and this luminescent production meets the task head on.
Hidden under the bridges of Waterloo, Jamie Manton’s masterful production uncovers so many layers within the play. There’s love, loneliness, family, friends, strangers, all with complications and complexities of their own. And, stuck mercilessly in the centre, is Robin. Ryan Whittle is magnetic as Robin, and he creates this Lost Boy/Just William/Kurt Cobain figure beautifully, steering us brilliantly through his various metamorphoses; drunk Robin, high Robin, grief-stricken Robin… he never settles. All the while it is utterly impossible to take your eyes off him. Whittle exudes an energy that is dark and untrustworthy, but then, just as he nears the edge of acceptability, you are pulled under by his hedonistic charm, wit, and vulnerability.
Ryan Whittle as Robin, Miranda Wilson as Lily.
We see this tidal pull affecting those around Robin, and the supporting cast are strong stabilisers for this whirlwind of a character. Freddie Thorpe as Arlo oozes a wonderful slime of privilege and disregard, and Rosalie Kosky as Coby does an impressive amount with her small but crucial part as the girl-next-door. She is an explosion of energy onto the stage, brilliantly breaking up the tension to great effect. Miranda Wilson as Robin’s dying mother Lily treads the fine line between madness and sanity well, giving us a wonderful example of one of Stenham’s completely Mad Mothers. She and Whittle beautifully articulate the deteriorating mother-son relationship, swapping the role of caregiver frenziedly. George Watkins as the final member of the family, Robin’s stoic and surly brother Oliver, is brutal and broken in equal measure; desperately trying to save his brother, but unknowingly going about it in the wrong way.
Freddie Thorpe as Arlo, Ryan Whittle as Robin.
Finally, the design of the show is mesmerising. With a deteriorating set speaking of long lost grandeur, it suits Lily and Robin perfectly; a crumbling castle for a Boy King. Oliver, in his House of Commons suit and tie, fits in nowhere. The movement sequences, directed by Jasmine Ricketts, are nightmarish and disturbing, and the use of ghostly animal-head masks gives the whole thing the air of a masquerade-gone-wrong. There is a wonderful and terrifying climax when Robin, who has been noticeably absent for a stretch of Act 2, reappears; in complete darkness, after a wonderful display of movement and music, all we hear is his casual tinkle on the piano. I was completely frozen. With a crash the stage is lit again, and Whittle is poised crouched on a chair, Peter Pan just landed, ready to pounce on his masked friends whom he feels must pay for their betrayal.
The show’s menace, humour, and subtlety were an absolute thrill. Along with the rest of the audience, I departed with a lingering sense of unease. Robin is left with a painful secret that only he and the audience know; as the curtain call ended, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops to set him free of it, but Manton and his cast give us no easy answers or endings. It’s brilliantly, exquisitely painful.
Evie Killip as Scout.
Reviewed by Katherine Stevens
Photos courtesy of Jamie Scott-Smith: http://www.jamiescottsmith.co.uk/