This Beautiful Future review – delicate, ambiguous and forceful

The Yard, London E9
Jay Miller directs an exemplary production of Rita Kalnejais’s bittersweet love story set in occupied France

When people grumble about theatre being middle-aged they aren’t looking in the right places. In London’s Hackney Wick, the Yard glimmers with new life. Focused and adventurous. Carved out of an old warehouse six years ago, it shelters a cafe (very good cauliflower pakoras) under the rake of the auditorium. Videos of forthcoming shows flicker on the whitewashed wall. On some nights the bar becomes a revenue-spinning club. The Yard’s founder and artistic director, Jay Miller likes the idea of people seeing a show, talking about it over a drink – and then dancing.

Cambridge-taught and Lecoq-trained, Miller is as clear about the need for tight text as for fluid performance. His production of Rita Kalnejais’s This Beautiful Future, first seen here earlier in the year, is exemplary: delicate, ambiguous and forceful.

Towards the end of the second world war, a young couple meet in secret. She is French; he is German. Both, enticingly played by Abigail Lawrie and Tom Morley, are wobbling in and out of adulthood; she zestful, he almost a zealot. She has meandering lines painted down her legs to look as if she’s wearing nylons. In his oatmeal knickers he looks barely out of boyhood; in khaki he becomes bulky and nearly official. She has epileptic fits. He talks of creating a perfect race. Before they make love for the first time they have a pillow fight.

This could so easily have become a sentimental “I am 16 going on 17” scene. But darkness and sweetness sit side by side, without hectoring comment. Cécile Trémolières’s design is like a playpen or a sandpit: a circular bed on a bare stage. An old tapestry shows a russet-coloured country scene, which might have come from a Millet painting. In booths at either side of the stage an older man and woman (Paul Haley and Alwyne Taylor, both wry and humorous) reminisce and sing: Scatter Brain and Boom! (Why Does My Heart Go Boom?) from the 30s. The audience are requested to – and do – join in with Adele’s Someone Like You.

The mood shifts like glass caught by changing light (the clarity and mists of Christopher Nairne’s actual lighting are very fine). Regret: the older couple want to remake the past. Elegy: the younger couple have found something to cling to. There is love to look back on and horror to come.

This Beautiful Future is at the Yard, London E9, until 25 November


Susannah Clapp

The GuardianTramp

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