By Georgia Jones
Written by Éloïse Richmond, Mrs Alexander kicks off Assembly Rooms’ DDF programme with a high. Transporting us to a bar in 1930s Chicago, the audience are immediately drawn into the life of the titular Mrs Alexander, played beautifully by Charlie Culley, who captures the earnest innocence of a young woman, disappointed by the fact nobody in the bar wants to dance. The opening scene showcases the couple meeting for the first time, capturing the instant attraction and obsession that fuels their relationship for the remainder of the play.
The intensity of the relationship is reflected in the excellent staging, a credit to Producer, Lamesha Ruddock, and Stage Manager, Erin Heviken. The team turn the stage into a lavish, but isolated, flat, complete with an array of scotch bottles on the cabinet, which echo Culley’s final chilling lines in the play. The lighting, provided by James Stevenson, also creatively adds to this isolated atmosphere, using spotlights to emphasise individual characters. One of the best uses of this is when Raphael Kris enters within the audience, allowing every audience member to be captivated as he narrates the problematic nature of Mr and Mrs Alexander’s thoughts. Although Kris excellently depicts the couple’s friend, Jack, throughout the rest of the show, I would have liked to see more moments in which he embodies the role of a narrator. In a play as isolated as Mrs Alexander, it would have been interesting to have a character who connects with the audience throughout.
A major highlight of Mrs Alexander is the original score, crafted expertly by William Ahlert and Angelica Shortanova. Throughout the play, the music allows scene changes, which generally follow a shocking line delivered from Willows or Culley, to be smooth and give audiences time to register the quick development of the plot.
However, the fast-paced development of the plot does leave the play feeling somewhat disjointed at times, as the audience is occasionally left unsure of how Mr and Mrs Alexander’s characters develop in the way they do. I imagine this is due to the fact Richmond originally wrote Mrs Alexander as a screenplay, before adapting it for DDF. Despite very successfully bringing a cinematic atmosphere to stage, due to the time constraints of DDF, some of Richmond’s original intentions are lost. I would be interested to see Mrs Alexander performed in its original format as a film, or as a play with the original length of the script. This would allow the audience to connect with Richmond’s story in the way it deserves.
Despite the characters’ motivations occasionally feeling lost to the audience, this is not a reflection on any of the talented actors onstage. Ben Willows, who should be credited for performing two lead roles within one night, yet never faltering, is a real highlight. In every scene, the audience are captivated as he embodies Mr Alexander, with his charming and charismatic nature in the opening scene slowly cracking as he presents more anger and irrationality throughout.
One of my favourite scenes depicts Mr Alexander trying to communicate with a pregnant Mrs Alexander, following her visit to the hospital. This scene is directed flawlessly by both Barney Watts and Richmond, as Mr Alexander continues to talk directly to “his son”, despite his wife repeatedly reminding him they do not know the gender of their unborn baby. The intensity of this scene reaches its climax when Mr Alexander continues to obnoxiously play music from his record player, despite his wife requesting he stops. The simultaneous discomfort and rage felt by Mrs Alexander in this scene is captured stunningly by Culley, as the audience sympathise with her frustration, aware at this point what she is about to reveal to her clueless husband, captured by Willows, who continues to dance alone, oblivious to her concerns. Overall, Watts and Richmond craft a tense and emotional production. Ideally, I would love to see the talented cast and production team bring Richmond’s original script to life, to see the characters develop to their fullest potential. However, Mrs Alexander is still a brilliant start to the Assembly Rooms’ DDF programme, which I would encourage everybody to see.
Image Credit: First Theatre Company