Bob Cornwell writes: Chummy: a Neo-Noir Thriller by John Foster, directed by Alice Kornitzer at the White Bear Theatre, London SE11, 23 May to 10 June 2017

Private eye (female), on the phone a potential killer (male). Can the unwilling PI dissuade the conflicted killer from his course of action? A ‘desperate dance’ is about to start. That’s the intriguing premise of BAFTA-winner John Foster’s new noir theatre piece Chummy, to be brought to life at the White Bear Theatre by the highly-praised Encompass Productions under producers Sofi Berenger & Jonathan Woodhouse.

I’ve read the script and it’s a cracker, going back and forth in time, shifting perspective, twisting and turning in unexpected directions.

Foster’s dialogue, as I may have mentioned elsewhere, has been described as “half 50s pulp novel, half TS Eliot’s The Wasteland”. Says Foster: “I would describe it more as lyricism and impressionism, through the words, so the narrative is like an inner film, a film within the play created through the words, trying for something like the ‘dark poetry’ of Raymond Chandler, creating mood and atmosphere.”

Certainly ‘noir’ then, but neo-noir, that ever-fluid subgenre that films like Chinatown (1974) inspired? I’m instantly corrected by (ex-screenwriter) Foster, pointing out instead the role of Hitchcock’s North by NorthWest (1959) in “updating the form of noir for the contemporary world.” He mentions films such as Scorcese’s Shutter Island, Powell’s Peeping Tom, Pakula’s Klute, Ray’s In a Lonely Place – but particularly those by “the wonderful” David Lynch. “CHUMMY” says Foster “is influenced by Lynch in the sense that the story begins quite realistically then moves more and more into the psychological and surreal.”

In total, it’s a demanding vision requiring a dedicated team. Director Alice Kornitzer, working closely with Foster over two years has, he says, “brought a great deal to the final version”, and not only in ensuring that speech, character development and staging are intricately entwined. The key roles are taken by Megan Pemberton as the complex PI Jackie Straker, Calum Speed as Chummy and Jessica Tomlinson in two minor but crucial roles.

That vision also serves to bring into unusual focus the role of sound and music, set design and lighting. Composer Alex Burnett is aiming to “skew perceptions for the audience by creating a psychological soundtrack”. Set designer Michael Leopold takes his inspiration from classic noir, whilst ex-film student Owen Pritchard Smith is looking to give the lighting “a cinematic feel, using unconventional techniques” in order to “immerse the audience in the neo-noir world of Chummy.”

John Foster meanwhile is convinced that the production will deliver “something exciting, as violent and intense as film” but with the added power that comes from the innovation and intimacy possible in the theatre.

Time then to get down to the newly refurbished White Bear Theatre in Kennington. Long live theatre noir!

More information at www.encompassproductions.co.uk

Book at www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk

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