No escape through the back door

Kicking off the 20th anniversary season at the Arcola Theatre is the world premiere The Cutting Edge by writer and director Jack Shepherd.

Abstract in Italian

Debutto mondiale per The Cutting Edge di Jack Shepherd, che celebra il primo ventennio di successi dell’Arcola Theatre, una delle sale più convincenti dell’East London.

Magistralmente recitata da un cast affiatato di attori tra i quali spicca Maggie Steed nel ruolo dell’eccentrica visionaria Elvira, la performance prende le mosse da uno spaccato degli ex critici d’arte Anna e Chris. Dopo aver lasciato alle spalle l’elettrizzante – quanto insopportabile – vita cittadina, la coppia si è trasferita in campagna, determinata a raggiungere uno stile di vita auto-sostenibile. Unica distrazione al lavoro nei campi sono le visite dell’amico intellettuale Peter, che inesorabilmente ripropone pompose lezioni di arte e modernismo, mentre Anna si affanna tra cortile e cucina. L’arrivo inaspettato dell’anziana artista Elvira in sella alla sua moto e accompagnata dal compagno ex-rocker Zak, parimenti motorizzato, prorompe nella tranquilla routine agreste della coppia sviscerando contraddizioni e dubbi che è ormai impossibile ignorare. Nonostante i dialoghi smarriscano a tratti un chiaro filo conduttore, e siano spesso guidati dalla maestria degli interpreti più che da un chiaro orizzonte tematico, la pièce offre innumerevoli spunti di riflessione. Dall’elitarismo accademico e intellettuale, alle sfide tese alla critica d’arte nell’era della commodificazione fino alla riflessione sulla sostenibilità ambientale, The Cutting Edge non smette di porre domande. Un ottimo esercizio con cui celebrare l’inizio della ventesima Stagione di un teatro che non ha mai abbandonato la sua vocazione all’indagine, alla messa in discussione, all’impegno politico e ambientale.


Having collaborated with Arcola as an actor, writer and director for over 20 years, Olivier Award-winner Jack Shepherd has helped to “shape Arcola’s first two decades”. It is with great enthusiasm that he is welcomed back at Arcola by co-founder and Artistic Director Mehmet Ergen and executive producer Leyla Nazli, this time to examine the impact of the rise of commercialism on art and life.

Strongly influenced by Shepherd’s intellectual journey at the time of his studies at King’s College in Newcastle, The Cutting Edge takes up some of the unsolved questions of those vibrant years and gives them a new, contemporary context.

The play revolves around Anna (Jasmine Hyde) and Chris (David Sturzaker), in the country house where they decided to flee seven years before – when they left behind their bustling city life and wealthy career as art critics in search of a self-sustained life. Anna is busy cutting onions, cooking, saving money, cleaning, while Chris, who we hardly imagine having once been a man of culture, is hands full in planting and digging what we then discover being a pretty unpromising land. Their routine is only softened – or irked? – by regular drop-in friend Peter (James Clyde) and his sing-song lectures of modernism, until the unexpected arrival of eccentric Elvira (Maggie Steed) revisiting her old haunts. She is followed by equally erratic motorbiking ex-rocker companion Zak (Michael Feast). Sometimes overbearing, sometimes irresistibly mischievous – with quite a talent for draining any glass in sight – the unpredictable elderly bohemian disrupts the worn-out comfort of the couple with flashes of insight. Doubts start to creep in and suggest that meaning might lie somewhere far from the place the couple had strenuously conquered during the last seven years.

The dialogue is rich, so much so that it occasionally sounds directionless. But overall, The Cutting Edge is pure food for thought: the clash between nature and culture, the insidious risk of elitism within intellectual speculation, the self-cherishing penchant of much academic discourse, the commodification of ideas, the struggle of being an art critic with easy money coming from pleasing not-so-convincing artists… these are only some of the topics addressed. And if some might point out that these themes sound over-rehearsed, that doesn’t mean they have lost their relevance. What in the pièce may be perceived as erratic, overly-theoretic wandering can be also seen as a nostalgic attempt to re-pose questions which have never been convincingly answered.

Beautifully performed, with Maggie Steed taking the lead of the motley ensemble, Shepherd’s play brings us to a place of uncertainty with grace, through a two hour stream of banter, tortuous reflections of art, striking personal revelations and plenty of booze.
Something more about Arcola Theatre.

A former paint factory, Arcola Theatre is situated in the middle of Dalston’s vibrant Turkish community. Since 2000 it has become one of the major theatre venues in East London, with an eclectic programme ranging from classic plays to fresher voices, often presenting politically committed works with an international outlook. The festival of new opera writing, Grimeborn, is one of the venue’s most acclaimed initiatives. Also, Arcola puts a clear emphasis on community work, such as Arcola’s Queer Collective plays and occasional Turkish language dramas. With its keen eye on environmental sustainability, Arcola has the ambitious commitment to becoming the greenest theatre in the UK – completely carbon neutral. The venue still maintains very affordable tickets, also through offering a “Pay what you can” night every Tuesdays.

Arcola’s 2020 season shows a commitment towards nurturing up-and-coming directors and writers: the majority of its works are produced in-house, with 14 productions across its two spaces.

photo (c) Alex Brenner

Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin St., Dalston
London E8 3DL
until Saturday 21 March
Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm
Saturday matinees at 2.30pm
Wednesday matinee on 18 March at 2.30pm
Relaxed Performance Thursday 19 March at 7.30pm
Jeannie’s Theatre Conversations Tuesday 25 February
Pay What You Can Tuesdays – limited allocation available in person from 6pm

The Cutting Edge
Writer and Director Jack Shepherd
With James Clyde, Michael Feast, Jasmine Hyde, Maggie Steed, David Sturzaker
Designer Louie Whitemore
Lighting Designer Richard Williamson
Sound Designer Lex Kosanke
Production Manager Ian Taylor
Stage Manager Aida Bourdis
Casting Siobhan Bracke CDG
Production Photography Alex Brenner
Video Content Savage Mills


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