As his brilliant new future history play King Charles III (see my other post) rides high at the Almeida, another Mike Bartlett play premiered in London in the last few weeks at the Watford Palace Theatre (which has been co-produced by Paines Plough) and I managed to catch it before it closed on 3rd May.
An Intervention is a two-hander between Rachel Stirling and John Hollingworth, which asks the audience, through different situations, to consider when is it right to intervene and when should we keep our opinions to ourselves. The first is military intervention through an unspecified war in the Middle East, which Stirling’s character (“A”) opposes but Hollingworth’s (“B”) feels is the best action to take morally, a stance which horrifies her. The others are of a more personal nature – should you speak up if your friend is with the wrong person? Should you intervene if you think your friend has an addiction, in this case A’s dependency on alcohol?
Staged like an old fashioned variety-style comedy act for the most part, the play is a funny, touching look at friendship. We have all certainly known friends who have at least some of A’s traits and Mike Bartlett presents scenarios we may all have been in in same form, for example, the uncomfortable first meeting with a friend after a row or if you can’t bear your friend’s partner and have to let them know or worry that your friend needs help but have no idea how to help them.
The staging is simplistic – there is only a bare minimum of set/props used for each act (divided wonderfully by the actors carrying signs across the stage flagging the next chapter). This simplicity enables the focus to be on the performances, which were both excellent. Rachel Stirling in particular is incredibly impressive, dancing across the stage and talking at 1,000 miles an hour to convey her character’s manic, scatty, playful but also vulnerable personality. She is also quite physical in the role, using hand gestures and movements to exaggerate some of the moments (plus top marks for catching endless M&Ms in her mouth too)! Although a little irritating initially, her character’s wit, charm and vulnerability mean that as an audience you are drawn to her and root for her. John Hollingworth is also very very good and perhaps has the harder task as his character’s calmer and to some extent colder personality needs to carry the same weight in scenes as Stirling’s and he does this brilliantly.
Although filled with playful moments, the play has a darker side, which is brought out as we see the more vulnerable side of A as it becomes clear her wild, flighty persona is a mask for the sadness she feels and her awareness of her alcohol problem. We also see just how important their friendship is to both of them. By the end of its 90 minute running time I found it to be an unexpectedly moving piece and the end was touching and superbly staged for full emotional effect on both a comedic and poignant level.
One of the things I enjoy most about Mike Bartlett as a playwright is his ability to convincingly create large scale theatre productions (such as Earthquakes In London) but also smaller, more intimate theatre as well (most recently Bull at the Sheffield Crucible). No matter which style, I always find them to have a powerful message , which leaves me with plenty to think about. I certainly hope the play reaches a wider audience in the future and would certainly see it again.