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Good Canary review at Rose Theatre, Kingston – ‘stylish but unsatisfying’

Harry Lloyd and Freya Mavor in Good Canary at Rose Theatre, Kingston. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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This is the first production of Zach Helm’s Good Canary to be performed in its native language. Set in Manhattan and written by a Californian, before now it has only played in Mexico City and Paris. It’s an eccentric journey for what is such an intrinsically New York play but with maverick actor and director John Malkovich at the helm, eccentricities are perhaps to be expected.

Harry Lloyd plays Jack, an amiable, newly published young author with a promising voice and a dangerously volatile wife Annie. Addicted to amphetamines and alcohol, Annie’s self-destructive behaviour threatens to undermine his chances of a major book deal – the sting in the tale is that Annie is the writer.

Helm’s play focuses on the delicate balance of perception each character has of Annie, as her life spirals out of control. It’s a fraught, visceral performance by Freya Mavor that is likely to draw comparisons with Denise Gough’s mesmerising turn in People, Places, and Things. Through the haze of drug use, Mavor underpins Annie with an encroaching vulnerability, as if getting sober will really unleash her demons.

Malkovich’s stamp is set firmly on the production, his direction veering from the sublime to the intrusive. Designer Pierre-Francois Limbosch’s projected panels create locations, while also amplifying Annie’s neuroses and, at one point, illustrating unspoken dialogue.  Helm’s play features some surprising humour and a incredibly gripping central performance from Mavor but while it’s stylishly put together, there are unsatisfying gaps in his narrative – it leaves too many questions unanswered.

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John Malkovich directs a stylish production of a smart, entertaining but unsatisfying play