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The Last Motel

3 starsReviewed by Richard Stamp
Underground Venues
4 & 6 Jul 6pm to 6:45pm, 8 Jul 7:30pm to 8:15pm, 13-14 Jul 6pm to 6:45pm

The Last Motel might sound like somewhere you’d find in rural Tennessee – but, as we soon find out, this particular one is a few miles outside Barnsley. Into the room bursts a big man, in a shabby fleece, with a turkey (yes, a turkey) on his head. We’re witnessing the aftermath of a heist gone wrong; and we learn that our implausibly-disguised anti-hero has been left with an unwanted hostage, a well-spoken female vicar.

The plot which follows is a fairly standard one: using psychological guile, the kidnap victim slowly gains control over the captor.  But in The Last Motel, it gains an unexpectedly hard edge, with the discovery that the vicar favours a distinctly right-wing form of Christianity.  There were elements of the script which I found a little far-fetched, but it still seduced me somehow into rooting for the bad guy – hoping he’d somehow find a little more inner strength, enough to resist the malicious ministry of his supposed saviour.

The gently-comedic opening works very well, but the rest of show could use a lot more go-ahead.  I never got much of a sense of urgency, or believed that we might be witnessing the last stand of a desperate man under siege.  This play’s at a relatively early stage of development, so my advice to the director is to jump one way or the other – either by extending the comedy into the later scenes, or by dialling up the tension with a bit more noise and atmosphere.

But it’s still a fine performance from both actors, who add an all-important intensity to the claustrophobic script.  Gareth Watkins is gifted the more eye-catching role, and plays the wannabe robber with a touching vulnerability – exposing inner insecurity over his abandonment of his partner in crime, and about his position as breadwinner in a one-parent family.  There’s a sharper tragedy in his past as well, and Watkins’ remembrance of the sights and smells of a funeral did full justice to a genuinely moving passage of writing.

Making her Buxton debut, Leni Murphy is an able foil to Watkins in the early scenes, and has her own opportunity to shine later on.  Her transformation from victim to power-broker was thoroughly convincing, and she played it subtly, her role reversing slowly over time.  The ending comes a little suddenly and – phrasing this carefully to avoid spoilers – I thought that what nearly happens might have been a lot more striking than what actually does.  But the route we take to get to that point is an interesting one, and I left the theatre with a few new thoughts planted in my mind.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2013.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.