• Drama
  • By Stephen Sewell
  • Directed by David Anthrobus
  • Cast: Joseph Kloska, Emma Pallant, John Bowler, Cate Debenham-Taylor
  • Orange Tree Theatre, London
  • 8 March 2014
  • Time: 19.30
  • Review by Rivka Jacobson
  • 10th February 2014
It Just Stopped
3.0Reviewer's Rating

It just stopped and the world came to a halt!

In an Avant-garde flat on the 47th floor, where colourful jellybeans form part of the walls’ décor, live a professional couple; Franklin (Joseph Kloska) a music reviewer for the New York Review of Books and Beth (Emma Pallant) a radio producer.

They are both highly strung and generous with verbal punches, akin to insults. Beth riles Franklin about his small penis and lack of sexual drive, while he ridicules her lack of principles in working for a smug shock jock. They have a heated argument about Wagner and whether the music can be judged separately from the obnoxious man, adding a great deal of rant and nothing original to the wider debate that continues to run.

The familial ‘cosiness’ in that highly charged household dissolves when the two gradually discover that all amenities and services have ceased to function – no electricity and therefore no computer, elevator, kettle, telephone, cell phone’s battery flat, or even running water. The couple are seized by anxiety of imminent disaster and paralysing fear of total annihilation. Something terrible must have happened. Scared to venture out of their flat, they feel “lost and alone in a world you no longer recognise”.

The drama takes a surreal turn when the doorbell rings (something works). A couple, Bill (John Bowler), a cardboard box tycoon with a pragmatic capitalist outlook, and his wife, Pearl, evidently complete strangers, turn up. She says little, but reveals a great deal. She is a fusion of a trophy wife and a hounding bitch.  They offer Franklin and Beth a “business proposition”, that they become Bill and Pearl’s slaves. The initial shock gradually evolves into temptation, contemplation and possible acceptance.

Throughout the play the characters are in a power struggle. The dialogues and characters seesaw between blurred boundaries of reality and fantasy, comedy and tragedy, wit and banality, sanity and insanity, creating conflicting and often unconvincing narratives.

David Antrobus direction, maintains a degree of nervous claustrophobia in the ambiance of the Orange Tree theatre’s small auditorium. The performances given by all four actors are impressive. John Bowler’s Bill and Cat Debenham-Taylor’s Pearl are acted effortlessly and chillingly convincing.

Sewell’s play is rich with wit but diluted with clichés galore and intellectual pretentiousness, befitting his characters. The wit in the dialogue generates much laughter from the audience.

The melodramatic end, just like Franklin’s neurotic outbursts, though well directed and executed, lies in the realm of unconvincingly absurd.

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