Tron Theatre and Sherman Theatre introduces The Motherf**ker with the Hat to its national debuts in Glasgow and Cardiff. Having loved the production at the National Theatre a couple of years ago I had some trepidation about seeing it again.
There are however certainties which meant any apprehension could be dismissed. Stephen Adly Guirgis’ script is phenomenal. Fast-paced and capable of taking you as easily to laughter as emotionally charged gasps. Added to this assurance of a fantastic cast including Welsh talent – François Pandolfo and Alexandria Riley.
Through Kenny Miller’s design, the New York state-of-mind embraces you. Across three levels, we observe the changing state of a city. This design enables the pace of dialogue to build rhythm across locations. This agility enables the crescendos to gain momentum as the colour of language to be absorbed by the audience.
Sam Jones’ sound design works to maintain this rhythm, the mood of the music reinforcing the strength of emotion. It is the ability of Tron Theatre’s Director, Andy Arnold, to evoke this emotion from the cast which draws the audience into the fast paced dialogue. To experience the roller-coaster ride of Jackie’s life.The Motherf**ker With the Hat introduces Jackie and Veronica. Jackie (François Pandolfo) is fresh out of jail, working with his parole office and sponsor to get on track. Jackie’s priorities are staying sober and getting a job. Living with his 8th grade sweetheart, Veronica (Alexandria Riley), doesn’t make this easy. She’s an addict and trying to support her mom, who’s also an addict. The acknowledgement of a hat throws Jackie and Veronica’s relationship into turmoil.
Opening to dialogue which places you in no doubt that this is downtown New York, there is a strength in relationship of the actors. The energy bounces around the stage, ensuring the humour to be translated within the pace of the dialogue. Likewise, ensuring the violence of mood can be realised.
The relationship between Jackie and Veronica creates the emotional volatility to enable the audience to take a sharp intake of breath toward the person emerging from the bathroom. For me, it was Renee Williams as Victoria which had me transfixed in the fragility of her life.Victoria is the wife of Jackie’s sponsor, Ralph (Jermaine Dominque). To Jackie, Ralph is a best friend- Ralph is in reality a man of many masks. These are known but unacknowledged by Victoria. It is with so much tenderness that her need to be fulfilled is exposed.
In this, in taking relationships from love to violence in the unravelling of a moment is the strength François Pandolfo brings to the character of Jackie. From carrying off the best moments of humour in the play to the fragility of love and the grit of violence, this is the performance which brings the stories together and nurtures them into staying with the audience.
Whilst there are multiple faces to Ralph, Jackie’s cousin Julio is slightly more one-dimensional. Played solidly by Kyle Lima, this is the character which brings in the humour. Whilst everything is spot-on in the performance, there remained a sense that the expectation of laughter may have overtaken the need to understand this relationship. That Jackie did go back for Julio.The themes of love, betrayal, retribution and forgiveness are successful brought to the fore in this production of The Motherf**ker With the Hat. Whilst the themes may be weighed down paper, on stage this is a production which blasts through ninety minutes. With performances comfortable in their characters skin the strength is in the space to realise the emotions and violence of Guirgis’ tale of New York.
The Motherf**ker with the Hat is at the Sherman Theatre until 31st March 2018. Tickets are available on 029 2064 6900 and via the website.
Disclosure: I was invited to a performance for the purpose of this review. All words and opinions are my own.