Review: Table, The Shed (National Theatre)

The Shed is the amazing new theatre at the National Theatre, temporarily replacing the Cottesloe which is being refurbished.

8758_NT_The Shed_image by Philip Vile 8504_NT_The Shed_image by Philip VilePhotographs by Philip Vile, courtesy National Theatre

The Shed has been constructed as a “temporary venue celebrating new theatre that is adventurous, ambitious and unexpected.” Not too ambitious or unexpected in this case, though: director Rufus Norris and movement director Javier De Frutos previously worked together on the excellent London Road at the Cottesloe which was so successful that it transfered to the much larger Olivier stage where I saw it. Rufus Norris also directed the Don Giovanni and Dr Dee for the ENO.

“Table” is a celebration of six generations of a family through the table constructed, used and abused by each generation, from David Best, the carpenter who built it (and whose corpse was laid out on it) through to Su-Lin, the surrogate child of Anthony Best with his partner Ben, dancing on it below.

Jpeg7_Rosalie Craig (Elizabeth), Michael Shaeffer (David)_imageRichardHubertSmith
From left to right, Rosalie Craig (Elizabeth), Michael Shaeffer (David),
image by Richard Hubert Smith, courtesy National Theatre

Jpeg13_Sophie Wu (Su Lin), Paul Hilton (Gideon)_imageRichardHubertSmith
Sophie Wu (Su Lin), Paul Hilton (her grandfather, Gideon)
image by Richard Hubert Smith, courtesy National Theatre

The play is nominally written by Tanya Ronder, Rufus Norris’s partner, but she explains in the programme (which you must buy if only to keep track of the generations) that it evolved through research and collaboration between the two of them and the nine excellent actors. That’s also how it comes across, as an excellent whole, much better than the sum of its parts. As you would expect over six generations, there are episodes of humour and episodes of sadness. Underneath all this is a common thread of selfishness versus commitment. This is not always as one might expect. Who is actually the selfish one: the nun running off to become a missionary in Africa or the atheist twin brother who stays at home, nursing his father after his stroke?

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