THE WARP
Albany Theatre, London SE8
2-3 May, 1998

Seventeen years after its last marathon performance, Neil Oram's 24-hour(ish), ten-play cycle was revived last May for a one-off gig at Three Mills Island. Following another testing of the waters in March, it now runs (in a slightly conflated nine-part version) at Deptford's Albany Theatre every weekend this month, kicking off at 8pm on Saturday evening and winding down almost exactly a day later. It's a promenade production, with the audience tending to congregate in the middle of the flying saucer-shaped theatre whilst the action unfolds in more than 20 separate playing areas on two levels around them.

The Warp is, as ever, presented under the maniacal aegis of Ken Campbell (who also appears in the very final scene, as the last of the 120-plus named characters in the cycle), but is directed this time by his daughter Daisy. And whisper it softly, but comparing the current incarnation with last year's "noble attempt" Daisy directs it rather more impressively than Ken: she has a fine sense of detail without packing the stage with gratuitous business, and enjoys the plays' humour to the full without ever labouring to inject laughs.

The main role of Phil Masters (a thinly veiled avatar of Oram himself) is some four and a half times longer than that of Hamlet. Phil appears in every scene of every play bar three brief ones; at one point he has a twenty-minute series of monologues, over thirty in all, each of which is cued by precisely the same line. There can be no challenge more prodigious for an actor's memory. Oliver Senton is miraculously perfect, to the point where a prompter has now been dispensed with, and gives a nicely rounded, organically developing performance which dares not to shirk the more egotistical side of the protagonist's character. It is an astounding feat both mnemonically and theatrically.

Moments of power and delight abound: Bunny Reed's raw-onion-eating King David; Roddy McDevitt's electrifying transmutation scene as Billy McGuinness, "King of the Gypsies"; Nina Conti's hysterically brittle smiles as Phil's wife Meg; Mitch Davies, Laurence Harvey and Steve McMurray each in a clutch of roles ranging from the slightly cracked to the Grand Canyonned; Kate Alderton's seemingly endless repertoire of "infant" business; the ludicrous posturing of Elliot Levey (who will rightly take this as high praise); characters including Buckminster Fuller, Krishnamurti, "Arthur the Cosmic Grocer" and "Cynthia, Laser Christ Woman"... It's impossible to describe the whole teetering conglomeration. What can safely be said, though, is that this ridiculously long "sporting event" is destined to be as fondly remembered and as seminal as on its first outing two decades ago.

Written for The Stage.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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