Intrigue and flirtatious games
“There’s no standard prototype. We’re not all Lego bricks that neatly slot into place.”
Leopards is a new play produced at the Rose in Kingston under the artistic directorship of Christopher Haydon whom I remember for two outstanding productions, Grounded at The Gate and Twelve Angry Men at the Garrick. This play is his first original production at the Rose.
Alys Metcalf’s play Leopards is a thriller which will have you guessing at endings which I am forbidden to disclose under the critics’ code about spoilers. All I can say is that my guesses were wrong!
A celebrity, charity chief executive, Ben Harris (Martin Marquez) has agreed to meet a girl, half his age, Niala (Saffron Coomber) in a hotel bar. It is raining and Gareth Fry’s sound of thunder and Colin Grenfell’s lightning convey the rise of the storm using designer Lily Arnold’s abstract vertical hanging blue strip lights.
Niala has been sending him copies of her cv and has emailed that she would like his advice on her future career. Crucially she had attached a photograph to her cv breaking a code of not revealing age, or gender or appearance to those selecting people for jobs. And he has agreed to meet her on a Friday night outside normal working hours.
Her behaviour is sexy and provocative as she flirts unashamedly with this handsome and powerful man. While she may or may not have fooled the men in the audience, for me, she was definitely up to something but it might be the reverse situation of the casting couch in her trading sex for advancement. A little later in the play she refers to this concept, “This isn’t me trying to sleep my way to the top. I’m not convinced that even works, or wouldn’t there actually be more women at the top?” Nice observation!
The author has written about her play addressing the subject of goodness. Ben Harris is known globally for his charity which supports the environment but in an early exchange he refers to the scandal of Oxfam staff involved in sexual abuse in Haiti. He is perceived as someone who works for the greater good but I found him in the hands of Martin Marquez to be overly modest, injecting self-deprecating humility in a way that did not convince. Good acting and directing choice! Despite this image of goodness he is obviously attracted to a spontaneous sexual, extra-marital encounter with Niala and we see him on the phone telling his wife and child that he’s been detained and has to fly to Germany the next day and won’t be home.
Saffron Coomber as Niala is lively and animated, excited and trying to be seductive to arouse this man and she has to think quickly in order to answer any objections he might have. There are some great one liners from playwright Alys Metcalf.
The play tightens when they move upstairs to the suite in the hotel which has vague memories for him which start to crystallize. I cannot give any more detail except to say that someone will get tied up consensually.
The design of this expensive hotel didn’t make me want to stay there with its upholstered, raspberry pink, velvet high stools and tacky table lamps.
For the denouement, the play takes a leap of incredulity into the realm of melodrama. As the drama intensifies, so does the rain and the lightning and the number of blue hanging strips multiplies in a final lighting coup. Leopards is a thriller but believing it all is a stretch.
Written by Alys Metcalf
Directed by Christopher Haydon
Director: Christopher Haydon
Designer: Lily Arnold
Lighting Designer: Colin Grenfell
Sound Designer: Gareth Fry
Intimacy Director: Asha Jennings-Grant
Running Time: One hour and 35 minutes without an interval
Booking to 25th September 2021