Julian Clary and James Nelson-Joyce star in Stephen Clark’s intense and gripping drama that lacks in purpose and direction. 

Le Grand Mort 10 James Nelson-Joyce (Tim) and  Julian Clary (Michael) Photo Scott Rylander.jpg
(c) Scott Rylander. 

It is truly difficult to know exactly where to begin for this review of this intensely gripping production of a play which never seems to know exactly what it wants to achieve or what message it is trying to get across.

Taking place across one increasingly tense evening, Stephen Clark’s play  takes place during a dinner party with Michael and Tim who seem to have an increasingly twisted relationship. As the evening progresses and the mind games get increasingly dangerous, the audience aren’t certain that both characters will end the evening alive.

But the trouble is, despite the excellent work of both Julian Clary and James Nelson-Joyce, the play never makes Tim and Michael’s relationship quite clear – or what both are hoping the evening will achieve. By the end, you are left with the feeling that nothing much has been resolved in the ninety minutes – not helped by the occasional out of sequence scene that confuses the sense of time

But billed as a dark comedy, there are some wonderful lines to be enjoyed in the script, lifting the mood slightly and on occasion making the audience feel very much involved with proceedings, particularly during the opening scene as Michael is preparing the meal.

Christopher Renshaw’s slick and focused production works beautifully in keeping the audience gripped from beginning to end – despite the lack of clarity in the plot. The director is able to keep the tension building nicely, from Michael’s rather morbid monologue about death all the way through to the explosion of the final scenes.

But there is also great work from Jamie Platt’s effective and haunting lighting, that really highlights the change of mood and intensity of scenes to great effect and Ed Lewis’s morbid music in the background that ensure the intensity of the script is never forgotten.

Holding the show together are two completely contrasting performances from Julian Clary and James Nelson-Joyce that really get to the heart of the characters who begin to unravel and show a sense of vulnerability as the evening progresses. Out of the two, Julian Clary’s Michael is the most vulnerable and constantly on edge and reluctant to be touched. There are glimmers of the comedian that is familiar, with his comic timing spot on, but it is also a performance that is refreshing and full of depth.

In complete contrast to this, James Nelson-Joyce as Tim delivers a deeply psychological performance – pushing Michael further and further to see exactly how far he can wind him up. It is a subtly vicious performance that is greatly controlled.

Le Grand Mort as production is deeply engaging and complex, but as a play it is in need of clarity in terms of  Tim and Michael’s relationship and what the ultimate outcome of the dinner party for both characters should be.

Le Grand Mort continues to play at the Trafalgar Studios until the 28th October. To book tickets visit ATG Tickets

Rating: ❤❤❤

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