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Review: GOOD CANARY, Rose Theatre Kingston, 21 September 2016

The first thing to say about Good Canary is it is not always an easy play to watch.

Zach Helm's expletive-ridden drama is a darkly comic portrayal of mental disintegration, drug addiction and literary brilliance that is mesmerising and ultimately exhausting to sit through.

The story follows young writer Jack as he gets caught up in an overwhelming wave of success with his debut book. This accomplishment has a devastating effect on his emotionally unbalanced and drug-addicted wife Annie. The fallout is spectacular and has shattering implications for the couple.

Harry Lloyd plays Jack: quiet, modest and devoted to his wife. It is an understated but powerful performance from Lloyd of a character whose loyalty is painfully and consistently tested.

The rest of the cast is also very strong, with Sally Rogers' airhead Sylvia and Ilan Goodman's caricature of a drug dealer called Jeff providing much of the comedy.

However, all eyes are on Freya Mavor as she plays the disturbed and highly intelligent Annie with utter conviction. She has the physical appearance of a true addict: wiry, haunted and with a look of being consumed from within. The chaos of her mind and her life are laid bare in a visceral performance that is both brilliant and heartbreaking.

Oscar nominee John Malkovich makes his UK theatrical directing debut here. Although Good Canary is set in New York, Malkovich has previously directed the play in French in Paris (where it was nominated for six Molière Awards) and in Spanish in Mexico.

Malkovich's love for this play is evident in his direction, which is often inspired. Every scene has something interesting or unique about it. Particularly moving is one between Jack and Annie where their words not spoken, but shown on the screens behind them.

Pierre-François Limboch has worked with Malkovich many times before and his design for the Paris production of Good Canary won a Molière award in 2007. Here he uses three huge digital screens to project backgrounds and animations, as furniture slides seamlessly on and off the stage. It is a filmic and very modern look.

A scene where Annie manically cleans the house after buying thousands of dollars worth of amphetamines is brilliantly conceived. As she dashes back and forth, the background shows windows changing shape and Pop Art animations as a clothes rail whooshes across the stage. This is complemented by cartoon-like sounds effects and sped-up music. The scene is frenetic and perfectly reflects the disintegration of Annie's mind as she falls further into addiction and mental despair.

This is a captivating and tragic play that is beautifully staged and deftly performed. It may not always be comfortable to watch, but it is well worth the effort.

The Good Canary is at Rose Theatre Kingston until 8 October

Photo Credit: Mark Douet

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From This Author - Aliya Al-Hassan

Aliya Al-Hassan is UK Managing Editor of BroadwayWorld. A London-based theatre critic and journalist, she has a life-long passion for the arts, with a focus on theatre and opera. She is a... (read more about this author)

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