REVIEW: LUNCH and ‘THE BOW OF ULYSSES (Trafalgar Studios) ★★★★★

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LUNCH and THE BOW OF ULYSSES are deftly directed by Nigel Harman and mark a very welcome return to the West End of one of Britan’s most creative and acclaimed playwrights, Stephen Berkoff.

The plays concerns the emotional journey of two lovers, ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’. LUNCH explores their first meeting and THE BOW OF ULYSSES shows us the couple 20 years later. Actors Emily Bruni and Shaun Dooley take on the roles and their chemistry is electric.
Bruni is all at once terrified and terrifying, whilst Dooley fizzes his way around the stage in an effort to at first woo and finally to overpower ‘Woman’. It is however the constant flux of power between the two that makes them so fascinating to watch.

The set design is clean and beautiful. A slatted stage, bench and large salt sprayed seascape window (designed by Lee Newby), along with the sounds of a British seaside (Ben and Max Ringham) as well as the lighting (designed by Joshua Carr) all mix to create the perfect idyllic setting which juxtaposes beautifully with the grotesque relationship which unfolds in front of us. The weather even changes between the two plays and it perfectly reflects the change in the tone of the text.

Berkoff’s work is always pulsating with energy in word, physicality and even its subtext and LUNCH and THE BOW OF ULYSSES are no exception. Berkoff has such a poetic grasp of language and his text positively drips with powerful and punchy descriptions that paint the most vivid of pictures. How could I not be affected by such glorious and evocative text such as ‘heat filled bitch of a thousand angels’? (Meant absolutely as a compliment). His observations are always of the dark and bleak aspects of human nature and in LUNCH even the first exciting and orgasmic meeting of the lovers, is tainted with danger, fear and desperation.

The second play THE BOW OF ULYSSES is less dynamic than the first, the characters and their relationship is jaded and tired and this is reflected in the direction. This choice however only serves the text and highlights the emotional state of the characters at this point in their journey.

I’ve always felt that Berkoff’s plays are important, they live and breathe, they are full of vitality and passion, they ask questions and demand answers and need to be watched and experienced. The mark of a good play is one that stays with you, long after you have left the auditorium and LUNCH and THE BOW OF ULYSSES certainly do that.

Reviewed by Byron Butler

LUNCH and THE BOW OF ULYSSES is playing at the Trafalgar studios until the 5 November 2016