Our Private Life @ Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court

Posted: March 21, 2011 in Play, Review
Tags: , , , , ,

12/03/11

Our Private Life by Colombian playwright Pedro Miguel Rozo, is the first play in the Royal Court’s International Playwrights Season. Developed in part at their International Residency, Our Private Life or Nuestras Vidas Privadas has been produced in Colombia but appears here in a translation by Simon Scardifield. Set in a traditional Colombian village with dreams of being a town (they’ve got a shopping centre now and everything.), the story follows a single family who try desperately to appear respectable to those around them, while all the time rumours and secrets are damaging their reputations and home life. As the rumour mill begins it’s work, long buried secrets in the family come to the fore, and accusations fly from all angles as the family try to figure out who is telling the truth.

The claustrophobia of home and village life is palpable here, and is pressed on the audience by having characters turn to the audience and reveal their thoughts aloud. This sometimes took the form of comical asides, other times as extended rants. —This was an amusing device at first, the interruptions skillfully incorporated into the action without losing any of the pace or tension, though as the story progressed the device became quite limiting in more dramatic moments.

Our Private Life is an interesting examination of private persona vs. public reputation, though there are flaws. The portrayal of child abuse here is too simplistic, and the idea that there was something to blame for Carlos being gay made me feel a little uncomfortable. (I understand that this was a source of humour for the most part, but it still felt like an odd angle.) The writing was interesting overall, and had some good ideas, though some of the ideas put forward could have been explored in more detail – particularly with regards to the aspect of class, which seemed like more of an issue at the end than it did at the beginning. Despite these little niggles, though, I found the writing snappy and smart, and would definitely like to see more work from Rozo.

 The set is a traditional Colombian kitchen, though seems a little superfluous. I couldn’t help but think that a simpler set would have been welcome in the confined studio space and would not have hindered the performances in any way.

The characters were all somewhat distorted, to both comic and tragic effect. Relationships changed rapidly, and characters twisted themselves in secrets and lies as the fast paced story raced towards its conclusion. There were fine performances from all involved, most notably Anthony O Donnell’s forlorn and uncommunicative father, around whom the drama unfolds, and Colin Morgan as the gay, bi-polar, compulsive fantasist, Carlos. Morgan, in particular, had some stand out moments, and certainly hasn’t lost any of his edge since his 2008 appearances at the Young Vic.

Perhaps the funniest scene in the play is when Carlos returns to a family dinner upset about some long buried memories. As his family argue loudly around him, he starts crying in the most dramatic and hysterical way possible. He then proceeds to attempt suicide using the nearest piece of cutlery, which happens to be a butter knife. It is simultaneously hilarious and shocking, which perhaps sums up the whole play.

Our Private Life is a darkly funny little piece, and I’m sure if I have seen this show three or four years ago I would have hailed it as revolutionary, edgy, and unsettling. However, I can’t help but be reminded of a quote from the inimitable Tony Kushner. “It’s something you learn after your second theme party: it’s all been done before.”

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