The Last Motel

Thu 31st July – Sun 10th August 2014

reviews

Bridey Addison-Child

at 03:49 on 9th Aug 2014

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‘The Last Motel’ sees an unlikely pair thrust together in unexpected and desperate circumstances. Abalone (Gareth Watkins) is an amateur criminal and professional poultry-factory worker, who (to put it nicely) is a few chickens short of a coop. His botched armed robbery turns even sourer when he runs over Eve, a vicar, (Victoria Tunnah) and is forced to stuff her unceremoniously into the boot of his car. This leads to both of them being holed up in a scruffy hotel room just outside of the Yorkshire town of Barnsley: the ‘last motel’.

Abalone, like his namesake – a giant, Spanish snail - presents a hard shell at first. The opening scenes provide an impressively tense atmosphere, aided by both Watkins' bold presence onstage and J.J. Fletcher’s directorial decisions; Watkins gesticulates carelessly with a gun and drags the pint-sized, unconscious Tunnah around with ease. Yet, as the show progresses, his shell is broken through to expose a surprisingly vulnerable, somewhat pathetic centre. He is widowed; he has IBS; his failed heist was an attempt to pay the mortgage, and was motivated by a quasi-Robin-Hood style sentiment – he robbed drug dealers, people who Abalone considers as repulsive, rather than comrades in crime.

If Abalone is the anti-hero of the piece, then Eve is the dark horse, whose down-to-earth Christian sensibilities quickly morph into something more radical and sinister. I personally found the writing of her character a little too quirky for my tastes. While Abalone felt well-rounded and truthful, I never really got a grasp of Eve’s character. Her place in the piece, especially in it’s conclusion, felt like ‘one twist too many’. However, it was clear that Eve provided the foil to Abalone and his small world-view. She spoke of perspective and wider meaning in the world, and thus became a mouthpiece for the thematic intentions of the production, the ‘macro’ to Abalone’s ‘micro’.

Despite my queries about the soundness of Eve’s character, overall the script is striking. Not only do the characters manipulate each other (both physically and mentally), but Fletcher’s writing manipulates audience opinion – the script is a master class in the development of character and the effect that this has on audience-character relationships. My sympathies certainly shifted throughout the piece, aided considerably by Tunnah’s well-judged transformation from captive to controlling.

In this sense, Fletcher’s production is engaging and clever - his is a dark and cynical style, streaked with black humour and a manipulative edge. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Coen brothers and their grimly comic, often violent, treatment of human nature. This is what Fletcher, Tunnah and Watkins manage to collectively pull off: a kind of homespun ‘Fargo’, albeit delivered with more theatrical flair.

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Tom Gellatly

at 05:51 on 9th Aug 2014

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The Last Motel’s start is heralded by the entrance of a man dressed in dark clothing with a turkey mask over his head, storming into the small, intimate theatre and brandishing his gun at the audience. From such inauspicious comedic beginnings, the sheer number and variety of emotions that the production cycles through in its efficient running time is scarcely believable.

Billed as a black comedy on its promotional flyers, the first laugh in the Last Motel comes mere seconds after this aggressive, almost frightening beginning. The serious issues which arise throughout its fifty minutes never go more than a minute or two without being punctuated by a genuinely great throwaway line or joke.

The ‘plot’ of the play concerns Abalone, a man somewhat at the end of his tether. He has kidnapped a woman after a botched robbery, and takes her to the titular motel room while he considers what to do next. Again, it doesn’t exactly sound like the most conducive of plots for hilarity, but that’s what The Last Motel succeeds at time and time again; it ekes out surprisingly intense emotions – be they empathy, surprise or genuine sadness – from unexpected places and at unexpected times. This turkey-wearing, gun-toting maniac who we see at the beginning of the play gradually reveals himself to be quite the tragic, sympathetic everyman-gone-wrong.

His captive, a woman named Eve, is equally enigmatic, with her peculiarly level-headed approach to her kidnap serving as one of the more interesting elements on the production. The interplay between the only two characters is, luckily, excellent, and the gradual shifts in power which occur over the course of the play keep things interesting, as do the frequent and drastic shifts in dynamics and mood. One minute Abalone seriously questions why bogies are green, and the next Eve pontificates on the problem of overpopulation.

For a play so steeped in mystery for practically every minute of its running time, it does feature a surprisingly satisfying ending, replete with a not-entirely unexpected dénouement which leaves the audience with an appropriate amount of head-scratching to do after the play’s close. But it is not just the plot of the Last Motel that has remained bobbing around in my head since I saw it; whilst the ending is ripe for much speculation and discussion, it is the themes and discussions occuring throughout the production which have left the biggest impression on me. The plot is solid and keeps things fresh, but it is the two performers and their surprisingly intense, relevant debates which are the true stars here.

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