Theatre Review: Cross Purpose - King's Head Theatre, Islington ✭✭✭✭

Cross Purpose

The last play I saw at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington was The Great Gatsby Musical – a bright, raucous, jazz and whiskey-soaked extravaganza set in the roaring twenties. Their latest production, Cross Purpose, couldn’t be more of a contrast. The setting for Albert Camus’s 1943 play is an eerily quiet hotel: dark, dusty, and run by a mother and daughter who have been casually murdering their guests and stealing their money in the hope of one day escaping from their bleak surroundings. Events take a turn for the (even) worse with the arrival of their latest customer, Jan, an apparent stranger who is secretly hiding his true relation to the two women.

Despite the bleakness of the narrative, this production brilliantly brought out the blackly comic elements of Camus’s work. Leonard Fenton (you may recognise him as Dr. Legg from EastEnders) was particularly amusing as the sinister manservant, who speaks only six words throughout the play (and these all in the final scene) but conveys thousands more through his steely gazes and calm, measured movements. Although the narrative centres on just five characters, and the scenery only modifies very slightly throughout, I found the low-key nature of the production nuanced and enthralling. The use of only subtle background sounds and the almost complete darkness of many of the scenes excellently conveyed the uneasy atmosphere, and emphasised Martha and her mother’s feelings of isolation and detachment. Their costumes and make-up were also excellent in this respect: musty and monochrome, and a great contrast to outsiders Jan and his wife’s healthy complexions and more colourful clothing.

With such a small cast it would be easy to identify any weak links, but there weren’t any at all: the actors in this piece are, without exception, fantastic. Jamie Birkett was particularly impressive as Martha, giving a truly astonishing performance that moved from business-like efficiency to muted grief to passionate rage to icy indifference with complete believability throughout. David Lomax was also measured, natural and thoroughly sympathetic as Jan, Melissanthi Mahut was resolute and passionate as his wife Maria, and Christina Thorton expertly conveyed the Mother’s general air of weary melancholy at life.

Overall this is a dark yet comic production that expertly conveys the quiet eeriness of Camus’s text, and provides perfect entertainment for a wet and windy autumn night. Just don’t walk home alone afterwards!

4 out of 5 stars ✭✭✭✭

Review by Emma Curry

Listings information

Cross Purpose

King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper Street 
London N1 1QN

Sunday 7 October  to Sunday 11 November

Press Night: Monday 8 October at 7.15pm

Sunday 7 October at 7.15pm 
Monday 8 October at 7.15pm
Sunday 14 October at 7.15pm 
Monday 15 October at 7.15pm
Sunday 21 October at 7.15pm 
Monday 22 October at 7.15pm
Sunday 28 October at 7.15pm 
Monday 29 October at 7.15pm
Sunday 4 November at 7.15pm 
Monday 5 November at 7.15pm
Sunday 11 November at 3.00pm
Sunday 11 November at 7.15pm

Tickets: £10.00 - £25.00

Box office: 020 7478 0160