Theatre to make you think: Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune | the SPACE Ilfracombe
Whatever happened to serious theatre? By that I don’t mean plays without jokes, but writing with depth that leaves you thinking and searching for answers the next day.

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Terrence McNally‘s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune at the SPACE in Ilfracombe. Now here I have to confess to being a director of the venue, but apart from that I had no involvement with the production. So, as I took my seat for the performance, I knew as much or as little as any of the other 50 or so people in the room.

Over the following two hours, Debbie Hadley and Neil Rudd, who masterminded the production with assistance from Jay Moore, lured us into the lives of two lonely, middle-aged co-workers in New York in what is described as a ‘modern fairytale for midlife lovers’.

I also have to confess to not being a fan of the British attempting American accents – probably due to too many phoney drawls which fail Radio 4 dramas – but, getting over my prejudice, Debbie and Neil convinced us that we really were across the Atlantic in a lonely apartment in the middle of a big city in the early hours of the morning.

The pace of the play is unpredictable, unlike many popular pieces with an obvious start, middle and end. In some ways the writing appears flawed, because there are whole sections which appear flat before a sudden burst of frenetic dialogue, but, on the other hand, isn’t that what all-nighters are like? The excitement, joy and freedom often give way to tiredness, a withdrawal to simple comforts such as food, in Frankie’s case a sandwich, and the desire to give up and go to sleep. Perhaps the play is simply realistic.

Debbie and Neil both gave tremendous performances with no supporting cast, an impressive achievement, and created incredible intensity as they put their characters under the spotlight with literally nowhere to hide. They experience joy, anger, despair, laughter, confusion and more in a touching depiction of the difficulties of simply connecting with other people in modern urban life.

As I said, 50 or so people turned out to watch this performance, laughing and applauding, and seemingly enjoying the evening. Several years ago, when I got a phone call asking if I would join in getting the SPACE up and running, it was with the vision of providing a venue to support the widest possible range of performance.

Last night Debbie and Neil not only proved to us what is possible, but also demonstrated the value culture plays in opening our minds and stimulating thought.

We want to see more productions like this at the SPACE and if you didn’t catch this one, I recommend you book to see Debbie Hadley and Neil Rudd when once again they perform Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune next week at The Plough Arts Centre in Torrington on Wednesday 8 November.


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