The Rose Theatre in Kingston’s brand new thriller Leopards is timely, subversive and asks all the right questions, writes SWL’s Joel Poultney.
Oscar Wilde famously said that everything is about sex. But sex, he said, sex is about power.
But what if it’s about more? What if it’s about powerlessness? About consent asked for and consent taken? What if it’s about the past we live through and the past we pass on?
These are just some of the questions that writer Alys Metcalf asks in her gripping new play, Leopards.
Set over one stormy night in a London hotel, a young and assured Niala (Saffron Coomber) seeks career advice from renowned and revered charity leader, Ben (Martin Marquez).
The play simmers, slowly, methodically, with tension threatening to spill over with every rain drop.
And as lights flicker, the mounting storm gathers, Metcalf’s taut and often tightly written script seemingly leads to their inevitable tryst.
Crucial plot points are then judiciously woven across an impressive two-hander packed with ideas about the legacy of past indiscretions reckoned with in the now.
Where drama, perhaps, gives way to dialogue and discussion, Metcalf offers a satisfying third act that elevates this occasionally static production.
The constellation of broader societal trappings, be it climate breakdown, racial inequality, or the subjugation of women, are all centred. However, the discussion of these ideas can feel cosmetic in places, unnecessarily and unsatisfyingly scrutinised, with moments of levity and humour destabilising the tonal balance.
But at its most rewarding, Metcalf’s script works when it turns inward, when it asks singular questions about the past through a singular narrative told in the present, when it’s tailored to individual mistakes.
That Ben is a leading CEO for a conservationist charity serves as a helpful, though sometimes heavy-handed lens through which to explore the ideas of whether we are defined and confined to that which came before – ecologically or personally – and whether we are bound to our own mistakes.
Or, perhaps most crudely, whether a leopard can ever change its spots.
Audiences will decide for themselves if the plays gives answers to these ideas on its own terms but what can’t be disputed, however, is that this timely and subversive thriller is at least asking all the right questions.
The play is directed by Rose Theatre’s artistic director, Christopher Haydon and produced by Francesca Moody Productions – the Olivier-award winning company, led by Francesca herself who was the original producer of the critically acclaimed Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Leopards is showing at Rose Theatre in Kingston until 25 September 2021.
You can buy tickets here.
Feature image credit: Iona Firouzabadi