In fact, Zach Helm's writing gives so much in terms of theme that it takes some time to get a grip on what this play is about. The opening swiftly introduces young author Jack (Harry Lloyd) and off-her-face wife Annie (Freya Mavor) just as Jack learns he's earned a raving review from an esteemed literary critic. While Jack comes to terms with the prospect of his slick small-time publisher merging with a bigger and even slicker one – a move that’s sure to bring him copious amounts of money and fame – Annie is busy procuring equally copious amounts of drugs from her adorable friend and dealer Jeff.
At this point at least one thing becomes clear (and we're helped out here by the listing of amphetamine side-effects projected onto the rear wall) – at least one of the things this play is about is addiction. Helm uses Freya to present the interior perspective of drug dependence; both the highs and lows are portrayed viscerally through an exuberantly physical performance combined with some quite hallucinatory staging. One scene effectively depicts Annie cleaning the flat mid amphetamine-rush as clothes racks fly across the stage and windows stretch and shrink with each wipe of a squeegee.
The relationship between Annie and Jack explores the other side to addiction: the struggle and trauma of those who live with an addicted individual. As Annie's drug-fueled yet astoundingly well-articulated outbursts threaten Jack's career prospects, leaving him hurt and without an answer, there is nevertheless a special bond between the two. Perhaps this sets up The Good Canary as a typical love story, but there's certainly more to it than this. The connection between Jack and Annie survives on secrets and dysfunction – the dramatic payoff to this is a successful set of conflicts and climactic reveals.
The use of book deals and literary business as a backdrop to love and addiction offers some scope for further thematic variety, and there is some exploration into the publisher/writer relationship and, at one point, the nature of criticism itself. But it feels a little too brief, and somewhat superfluous alongside the main themes.
Perhaps The Good Canary tries to do too much. Later in the narrative, quasi-explanations are offered for Annie's addiction in the way of body image and a history of sexual abuse. These are enormous issues deserving of attention and time, so the extent to which they are overlooked is disappointing.
One of the main selling points of this play is its director, the mighty John Malkovich. And his strange and psychological style shapes shapes this twisted rendering of love and addiction.
|What||Good Canary, Rose Theatre Kingston review|
24-26 High St, Kingston upon Thames, KT1 1HL | MAP
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
16 Sep 16 – 08 Oct 16, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£8 - £40|
|Website||Click here to book via the Rose Theatre|