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In his soul-searching book ‘Walden: A Life In The Woods’, American novelist Henry David Thoreau wrote “We are not where we are, but in a false position”. That was more than 160 years ago, but the line – also quoted by a character in a novella by Paul Auster - and notion of being detached from a perceived reality – remains as relevant today as ever.
Coventry’s Theatre Absolute have taken the provocation ‘Are We Where We Are?’ as the inspiration for a two-year theatrical project, commissioning nine original pieces to be performed in the uniquely intimate confines of the city’s Shop Front Theatre.
Choke is the sixth piece in the themed series, and in some ways its centerpiece in that it’s a fully-realised theatrical production running for 10 shows (others have been readings and/or one-off performances), as well as written by and directed by Theatre Absolute’s artistic director Chris O’Connell.
The play also tackles the theme head on, pitching two old friends into a lengthy clash of wills that ebbs and flows around the thorny contentions: Are they where they are? Or where they thought they’d be?
Set in the home of a successful businessman, the powerful drama focuses on one-time ideological student friends whose lives have ostensibly taken wildly opposite directions, but who ultimately still have more in common - not least their raging egos – than either would care to admit.
Investigative journalist Rob (Graeme Rose) has turned up on the doorstep of pharmaceutical CEO Stu (Matthew Wait) in the middle of the night, bent double from stomach pains and begging for help. A disease inside him needs cutting out – or is he really seeking forgiveness for betraying his friend in an exposé years before? And were they ever more than friends?
These questions and more are either confronted or skirted around during a verbal sparring session that pulls few punches and makes for compelling viewing. The dialogue-heavy production is a joy to behold – the intensity heightened by the proximity of actors to audience – and Rose and Wait are both superb as they cross swords (or perhaps more accurately scalpel) to reveal their back stories via some devastating home truths.
But “truth is an evasive quality”, and while those back stories capture the imagination and make the audience wonder where the protagonists are, or will end up, O’Connell’s clever play also poses the same questions to those looking on.
Choke was reviewed by Steve Adams on 5 February 2018
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