Review: The Point of It
Image courtesy RADA
Lily-Fleur Bradbury - Nurse, Olive, Lady Manning
David Burnett - Lionel, Doctor, Sandy
Tanmay Dhanania - Nari
Tibu Fortes - Rikki
Richard Hansell - Michael, Colonel Arbuthnot
Sadie Shimmen - Mrs March, Mrs Arbuthnot
The Point of It takes three overlooked stories by E M Forster - stories of great power and theatrical potential - and weaves them into a single drama set today and in 1912.
No-one writes better about the tragic collision of convention and desire - between the comfortable life we cling to and the violent urge to be free - but there is nothing especially Edwardian about such a conflict, so we have updated and reshaped the stories to make Forster's vision of the human spirit struggling to be free available to a new audience in a highly theatrical staging, reframing his vision in the light of contemporary gay and intersectional experience.
The Point of It is performed by an ensemble of six, doubling and trebling roles in a style that combines physical theatre with naturalism.
Though the action covers a century and spans the globe, it takes place in a single setting, which is transformed by the actors as they go.
Two time periods are intertwined in this drama that draws on characters and themes from short stories by E. M. Forster.
Skilfully adapted and inventively directed by Simon Dormandy, the piece starts with a hospital scene in the present where we find Michael, an academic, seriously ill and comatose after an accident.
At his bedside is a male colleague (of Indian descent) reading aloud from Forster's short stories.
This contemporary element of the overall piece is based on Forster's stories The Point of It and The Story of a Panic, though Simon Dormandy admits to having altered much of the originals and invented some of the constituent parts.
Jumping across time, we head back to the days of the British Raj to meet characters from Forster's The Other Boat (written in 1957-8) and here the adaptor has steered more closely to the wake of the bold original.
As events unfold, we move back and forth in time to examine the relationships between two pairs of male characters.
In the present, Tanmay Dhanania's Nari is passionately in love with his British academic counterpart, Michael (played by Richard Hansell).
Nari's love for Michael is all-consuming to the extent that he says he is "an addict" and that "it's degrading".
Michael, however, seems unable or unwilling to commit to a relationship, lacking Nari's unbridled romantic zeal and, perhaps, not even able to comprehend what being in love actually means.
In the other pairing set in 1912, Lionel (David Burnett) finds himself sharing a cabin with Tibu Fortes' Rikki, a half-caste - or "wog" as he is described - as they take passage back to India.
The men were formerly childhood friends, and Rikki seems to have bribed his way into sharing the onboard accommodation.
But after Lionel succumbs to Rikki's advances, events take a tragic turn when Lionel realises their night-time activities might have been discovered.
This is a shortened version of Simon Dormandy's play, subjected to some editing in order to fit the requirements of RADA Festival (where the packed schedule seems to require running times of 90 minutes at most).
Even in this abridged state, The Point of It is an engrossing work to savour thanks to Mr Dormandy's compelling adaption that moves us effortlessly between time frames, and absorbing acting from a first-class cast.
The hospital bed is almost the only element of scenery, repurposed as occasion dictates to stand in for items of furniture, like a bunk, or even (very inventively) as a rowing boat.
Yet director and ensemble manage to evoke bags of atmosphere not only through adroit and distinctive characterisations, but by employing fluid physicality that is sometimes shockingly real.
Two performances prove particularly noteworthy, punctuating this riveting drama with some blistering moments.
Tanmay Dhanania is exceptional as Nari, describing a man rendered almost maniacal, being totally overwhelmed by unquenchable, obsessive love.
And David Burnett delivers a powerful and affecting portrayal as Lionel, straight-jacketed by social conventions and blighted by racist notions of the time, who ultimately resolves his conflicting emotions with brutal and tragic finality.
All-in-all, this is singular and compelling drama, superbly realised.
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