If Martin Scorsese collaborated with Tennessee Williams, you might end up with something like Gary Lennon’s superb .45.
Set in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in 1977, this play bristles with sexual tension, moral ambiguity hangs thickly in the air, and there’s an ever present sense of danger. It’s a moody drama set to a blaring CBGB’s soundtrack.
The cast is excellent. Natalie Dormer is particularly compelling as Pat, the woman at the heart of the story who is loved by everyone. She combines strength and vulnerability perfectly, while her scenes with Daniel Caltagirone who plays her boyfriend Ed are as loaded as the handguns he pulls.
Despite the urging of her friend and would-be lover Vic (a superb Katie Wimpenny) and reformed tough guy Reilley (Chris Reilly), Pat simply can’t just walk away from Ed. “I love him ‘cos he’s home,” she says. “We suffer well together.”
It is the introduction of social worker Kat (Emma Powell) that disrupts the cycle of violence. At first her presence jars; her repression too stylised in contrast to the overt sexuality of the other characters. Indeed her first scene is the weakest in the play – it’s an unexpected gear change and the staging is initially confusing. If I had a criticism of the play it would be that Kat’s emotional release is too staccato, and thus less believeable, but this is being picky.
.45 was made into a film starring Milla Jovovich and directed by Lennon (who wrote cult US TV series The Shield). I have not seen it and have no desire to. This is a great example of a play that works brilliantly on stage. The confrontations between characters are immeasurably more powerful when they are happening right in front of you, but the most violent scenes happen off stage and leave the audience to explore its own dark imagination.
The play, directed by Wilson Milam, is in Hampstead Theatre’s Michael Frayn Space – a small stage downstairs. The intimacy this provides is very suitable for the stifling atmosphere of the apartment and bar where most of the action is set, but why squirrel this away in some ‘alternative’ space? It’s the first time the play has been staged in the UK and, sure, it won’t be to everyone’s taste – there’s a lot of swearing and sexual references. But if you think that going to the theatre can be much more than a pleasant evening of mediocrity, then buy tickets to plays like this and prove to theatres that there is a demand for more engaging and challenging work even from the typical Hampstead Theatre audience.
Watch an interview with Natalie Dormer below, and for interviews with all the cast, visit the Hampstead Theatre’s You Tube channel. Then go and buy tickets for the damn play already.
*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket courtesy of the theatre