Chummy, at the White Bear Theatre (review)

It’s not every day that you see a take on the noir genre at the theatre. Chummy, the play by Encompass Productions at the White Bear Theatre, is exactly that, and despite a few misgivings about it I found it an interesting and atmospheric watch.

Written by John Foster, Chummy is a new play which centres around a private investigator, Jackie Straker, who receives a random phone call from an anonymous stranger. She is unable to put down the phone once she hears his claim that he has a murderous impulse and is desperate for her help – that she needs to keep talking to him every time he rings, to stop him from following through with that impulse.

chummy pic

Megan Pemberton in Chummy. Photograph by Headshot Toby.

Chummy, the man on the other end of the phone, remains in the shadows, his face covered by a hood and dressed in black. He skulks around the set, which is cleverly designed by Michael Leopold to create an indoor office space with venetian blinds across two corners of the stage and with a passage behind it; when the characters pass behind the glass, they cast eerie shadows. However, from my seat this did not always work and might have looked more effective from another angle.  Played by Calum Speed, I wanted Chummy to be more menacing than wheedling, more chilling than whining.

I found Megan Pemberton as Jackie Straker to be more authentic. Her former police officer, stressed and wired and drinking too much, is a familiar sight from the genre of police dramas that John Foster has written before (Z Cars, Juliet Bravo, The Bill). Foster has written the speech as really lyrical in places and I enjoyed Pemberton’s delivery of it, however the overuse of the name Chummy (which Straker herself has given to the murderer), seems too much, and begins to grate. We are witness to her stream of consciousness and this becomes hard to follow at times. In fact a neat edit would have done a lot to improve the play overall.

Jessica Tomlinson is the third actor and plays the dual role of the two women murdered by Chummy. She does it solidly but the writing is annoying for me here.  Surely no one repeatedly uses the replacement swear word ‘fudging’, especially when they are about to face their maker.

Some of the plot devices don’t ring true.  It seems absurd that Tomlinson’s Karen is the policewoman dressed as Tomlinson’s Lucy, acting as bait for the killer, yet Chummy still manages to get her, even though she is expecting him. Moreover, once Chummy has actually killed for the first time, any one else would have put down the phone and gone to the police sooner. Then you realise that this is about Jackie Straker’s fragile mental health too. The fact alone that Jackie Straker speaks possessively about ‘my killer’ and says ‘Chummy’s mine’ hints strongly at the psychological damage in Straker, which in turn leads on to the twist which I won’t of course divulge here.

Director Alice Kornitzer does well to keep the atmosphere dark and chilling and the actors are strong. However this theatrical take on the noir genre would have flowed more easily with a good edit and a few retouches to the script.

hattydaze rating: ***/*****

We attended Chummy on press tickets. Chummy plays at the White Bear Theatre until 10th June 2017.

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