Who Knew Mackenzie/Stalemate/Gone


CITY LIMITS 5.7.85 Carole Woods

The Royal Court have come up with a bumper year for director
David Sulkin's swan song. These three plays (plus a nightly
ten-minute poet's slot) adds up to some rich emotional and
intellectual satisfactions that reach beyond predictable
youthful agonies though 'Gone' by Elizabeth Krechowiecka, the
final play, does focus in most acutely on that area. Her
seaside quartet of two young men and women going through the
rituals of chat-up, seduction and disillusionment is funny,
perceptive and ultimately pessimistic about communication
between the sexes. 14 year old Emily Fuller's 'Stalemate', much
shorter, comes to an equally bleak conclusion in her portrait of
a mum's domestic enslavement through the callous insensitivity
of her husband and son. But the evening's revelation is our
introduction to Brian Hilton. His 'Who Knew McKenzie' reveals a
wonderful talent (like Krechowiecka, his account of young female
friendship has the ring of utter authenticity) for mixing past
and present in a haunting elegy to the isolationism of 20th
century man, the impossibility of knowing another, written with
compassion and imagination. Simon Curtis directs a cast of six
whose versatility and commitment make the evening one of rare
distinction.



THE OBSERVER 30.6.85 Ros Asquith

What is flimsy in 'Cheapside' is firm in uniting the thtee
plays that kick off the Young Writers Festival at the Royal
Court. The Festival attracted around 400 plays by contributors
under 20, which - in a period of cutbacks and discouragement for
new writing - is itself exciting enough. And the plays, all
directed with great sensitivity and flair by Simon Curtis, are
far from lip-service to uninformed talent.

The best, and first, is Brian Hilton's account of the effect
on a girl of the death of an elderly neighbour whom she had
never met. She feels impelled to attend his funeral and to make
sense of a life far removed from her own, and the play's sense
of time present and time past and its blend of material reality
and spiritual aspiration make Who Knew McKenzie, despite its
brevity, a touching and illuminating work.

The other two plays are more predictable dramas of family
life; but both are witty and observant. Emily Fuller's
Stalemate (written when the author was 16) presents a ghoulish
but convincing picture of a housewife enslaved by husband and
son to the furniture polish and the Hoover.

Elizabeth Krechowiecka's Gone is more ambitious, if equally
pessimistic about the relations between the sexes. Its
depiction of the hapless holiday courtship of two girls (looking
for cuddles and conversation) and two lads (looking for no-
strings copulation) is feverishly funny and painfully true to
life.

A fresh, strong and direct trilogy, fun to watch and quite
superbly acted. The cast of six are joined each night by a
young poet in a 10-minute slot which was taken on the first
night by Mark ('I'm the James Dean of the dole queue/A rebel
without a job') Jones, who augurs well for the rest of the run.


DAILY TELEGRAPH 1.7.85 John Barber

Now an established institution, the annual Young Writers
Festival brings new work to the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs
under the sponsorship of Rank Xerox. The Theatre has just
acquired a building in the Portobello Road, W11, for further
developing drama for and with young people.

This year's three plays at the Upstairs maintain the
Festival's standard. The longest, 19-year old Elizabeth
Krechowiecka's 'Gone', is a quasi-documentary about the seaside
chenanigans between a couple of excited but wary teenage
dollybirds and two sailors on leave.

The girls' chief concern, apart from protecting their
virginity, is that their feelings are not hurt and that they
will be rewarded with relationships as well as cuddles. Lost
keys force them to share a quarrelsome bed with their pick-ups,
and a good time together next day is ruined when they find one
of the boys is married.

Eavesdropping on teenage sexual play is mildly amusing, but
too often the tape-recorded authenticity of the dialogue ("I
think life's a bit of an obstacle-race, at times") falls flat.
The author has an ear, but the other plays offered more than
good reportage.

Emily Fuller, who wrote 'Stalemate' at 16, offers a
compassionate portrait of a housewife saddled with a bored
husband and a boorish son. Her efforts at escape become ever
more modest, descending from the dream of a French holiday to a
plea to share a jigsaw puzzle with a husband who only plays
chess with himself. Her scream of rage at the end is the only
moment of real living in an age of mere existence. This was
imaginative work.

Even more original, 'Who Was Mackenzie' by Brian Hilton (19)
concerns a girl oddly obsessed by the death of a neighbour, a
much older man. She attends his funeral, visits his relatives,
and at length gets given the job of sorting out his effects.
Her awareness is shown to be a kind of guilt: like everyone
else, she ignored the existence of "just another forgotten 20th
century man".

The feeling is common - it inspired the Cenotaph - but here
it is skilfully worked into a mystery story. Playing several
roles, the acting of Lesley Sharp, Elizabeth Bell and Sean Bean
showed a real sense of character.


TIME OUT 4.7.85 Helen Rose

The three plays selected for main production in the Royal
Court's Young Writers Festival all display a skill of blending
serious subject matter with humour and insight. The first, 'Who
Knew McKenzie' by Brian Hilton is an intriguing and sensitively
written piece about a young girl who becomes obsessed with the
death of an old man who she never knew, but who lived only four
doors from her home. Carefully structured, with subtle mood
changes, it is an eloquent exploration of time and of self-
discovery.

'Stalemate' by Emily Fuller, is a remarkably mature piece
bordering on the absurd. With cruel humour it presents a bleak
vision of a housewife trapped in a domestic hell - bullied by
her insufferably selfish son and ignored by her chess-playing
husband. Her escape is through daydreams: packaged consumerists
scenarios straight from the TV ads - excellently written it is
nevertheless a desolate view from a sixteen year old playwright.
Elizabeth Krechowiecka's 'Gone' has two girls looking for a
bit of holiday romance, 'kissing and cuddling', but find that
the two lads who pick them up are only after one thing. A
familiar tale but one told with great humour and understanding
in a play full of tension. which bursts suddenly and uneasily in
flashes of violence and frustration. The strong cast under
Simon Curtis' sensitive direction exude tremendous energy and
talent as they slip effortlessly between role to role in the
three very different but equally exciting new plays.


THE LISTENER 11.7.85 Jim Hiley

Theatre in Britain makes life tough for new work. For one
thing, we treat premieres and revivals as if they were the same
sort of event, which they aren't. Even an indifferent revival
can be elevated by comparisons with earlier interpretations,
because good drama - like music - benefits from familiarity.
Innovative writing, by contrast, makes unaccustomed demands,
so audiences are bound to respond to that bit more slowly. And
in new plays built on familiar lines, the text's qualities are
not always easy to separate from the production, good or bad.
Critics find it safer to credit the actors for a rewarding
evening, and the author for a dull one.

The bias against new writing is a fact of life. But that
doesn't mean we should accept it, especially when the financial
squeeze is rapidly making matters worse.

Ian McKellan complains that his company within the National
Theatre must mount their Webster, Sheridan and Stoppard with as
few as 17 actors. But today's fledgling dramatists would never
dare write for a cast that size, unless they were committed to
remaining unperformed.

The state of the Royal Court is painfully typical of the
current dilemma. After performances in the main auditorium,
spectators are confronted by ushers collecting funds in plastic
buckets, as part of a desperate bid to stay open. But at the
Theatre Upstairs, the annual Young Writer's Festival is again
demonstrating the wealth of talent straining to be tapped. In
an extensive schedule, this year's principal programme comprises
three plays by teenagers. Each of them is lively and absorbing,
and leaves one keen to see what the author will do next.

In Brian Hilton's Who Knew McKenzie, a girl becomes obsessed
with a recently deceased neighbouy whom she never met. Making
friends with the dead man's family, she searches his letters for
the mystical secret she is convinced they hold. But what she
discovers is that the man was merely 'flesh and bone' like the
rest of us. Hilton's dialogue can be bland, but he maintains a
tight grip, and his concluding sequence is both mature and
unexpected.

Stalemate, by Emily Fuller, is a sharp but not unfriendly
satire on the preoccupations and strange priorities of the
English middle class. Here a housewife is shown harassed by the
neglectfulness of her chess-obsessed husband, her slobbish son
and her upwardly mobile pal. Escapes into fantasy and a loud
breakdown fail to shift the all-pervading, tetchy dreariness.
When Fuller remembers to be funny - which she does for much of
the time - she writes delightfully.

And Elizabeth Krechowiecka works wonders with the stock
situation of Gone. Two girls - one tough and wary, the other
naive - meet a pair of boys on a brief seaside holiday. The
girls want conversation and affection, the boys believe
themselves to be interested only in sex. After a loveless
night, the possibility of something better is glimpsed only to
be snuffed out almost at once. What makes Gone more than
accomplished naturalism is its uncomfortable candour, and the
skill with which Krechowiecka evokes both high jinks and passion
barely controlled.

One of the best things about the whole evening is that these
amateur writers have been given productions of model
professionalism. Among a strong cast of six, Hetta Charnley and
Jonathan Phillips particularly caught my eye.

Back to Who Knew Mackenzie/Stalemate/Gone

Back to Main Theatre Page

Return to The Compleat Sean Bean Main Page