Mims' Musings

Review: “The Awake” by Ken Urban

Posted on: 01/08/2011


As part of the Summer Play Festival, the Donmar Warehouse hosts a Writer’s Residency, in which an SPF Playwright is selected to spend two weeks in London immersed into the world of London theatre, making connections with industry professionals.  This year the chosen playwright was Ken Urban, whose residency culminated in a staged reading of his play, “The Awake”.

On Friday the 24th of June, I had the pleasure of attending the rehearsed reading of “The Awake” at the Donmar Warehouse, which was directed by Seth Sklar-Heyn.

As I’d never attended a rehearsed reading before, I wondered how it would differ to a fully performed play, and whether anything would be lost by the actors reading from the script. However, within a few minutes I was completely captivated by the plot.

Despite tackling themes which are often difficult to convey successfully on stage, such as dreams and imagination, the play developed at an organic pace. The structure allowed for a sense of shared overlapping between each character’s dream, whilst dipping in and out of each individual’s story, resulting in a piece which was hypnotic and absorbing to watch. 

Michelle Fairley gave a performance which was both highly entertaining, as well as poignant. Her portrayal of Gabrielle, the Eastern-European housewife, provided several laugh out loud, comical moments at the start of the play, and equally poignant moments as her story was revealed.  She held the audience’s attention beautifully throughout and was a delight to watch.

Christopher Simpson’s performance as Edward/Nate was a great combination of contrasts. From a sense of wonderment to utter panic, and apparent innocence to what turns out to be complex.  Simpson seamlessly embodied all of these elements,  providing an engaging performance of a character with several facets.

Hugh Skinner gave a strong performance as Malcolm, the son caught between fantasy and the dilemma he faces in reality. Skinner gave a convincing portrayal of all the emotions involved in his character’s journey; from denial and escapism to acceptance, with a healthy dose of neurosis. The result was a wonderfully balanced performance, bringing the audience through every one of the emotions that Malcolm experiences.  Sorcha Cusack was a great counterpart as Malcolm’s mother, played with a great sensitivity and serenity.

Philip Joseph and Morven Christie executed the contrast between false sickly sweetness and dark sinister undertones with perfection. Christie in particular provided some great comical moments, delivered with confidence and timed perfectly.

Charlotte Beaumont conducted herself with professionalism throughout the play. Although she didn’t have any lines until toward the end, her presence on the stage alongside the other actors left the audience intrigued by the question of who she might be. A factor which would’ve been lost if this had been a full staging of the play rather than a reading.

At the conclusion of the play I found myself asking how one would even begin to think about staging The Awake, and whether it would work as well as a rehearsed reading.

I particularly enjoyed the way in which some of the actors used the music stand as a space which they could move in and out of, to signify a change in either physical or emotional state. I also felt that staging the play might distract from the essence of a strong piece. Minimal staging allowed the audience to focus completely on what was being said and speculate on what might be happening. When it was revealed how the three strangers’ lives were intertwined, I felt I was able to reflect on how intricate and clever the plot was.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and I look forward to seeing what next year’s Summer Play Festival will produce.


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