“A Whirlwind of Emotions” – ‘The Vortex’ Review

Adam Wollerton

The Vortex

Having had the privilege to work with Stephen Unwin at The Rose Theatre, Kingston, in 2012 on The Lady from the Sea, I knew that I just had to go and see his latest work, The Vortex. And why not, when a fellow Director lands you free tickets to the previews?!

It is well know that shows always develop throughout a run, and I’m sure Stephen Unwin would agree that there is still work to be done on The Vortex. However, I have no doubt he will get it out of this incredibly talented cast of actors.

Upon first entering the auditorium of The Rose, I was confronted with a set that made you stop and consider it for a second. The structure was created by a shattered framed canvas. A large white canvas formed the floor of the stage and suspended around this fallen canvas were shards of the picture frame. The harmony drawn between this collapsed and broken canvas and the crumbling and fragmented relationships in the play itself is an ingenious idea. You are free to link the two as you will, but this for me made most sense…

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The set as a whole allowed for some very picturesque scenes throughout the play (how apt!) and I have no doubt that this was not accidental. The combination of actors’ use and awareness of their bodies in the space, the lighting, and cleverly chosen set pieces, resulted in some very admirable photographic moments. This was more striking in the second and third acts where you could have paused the action at any given moment and had a spectacle to gaze upon before you – a picture that would literally tell a thousand words.

If you are unfamiliar with Noel Coward’s The Vortex, it is a play that many people of today’s world can relate to. In a snapshot, the show is a detailed look at the relationship between a drug-addicted son, and his extravagant mother who is dating a man the same age as her son.

The final scene between Nicky (David Dawson) and Florence (Kerry Fox) was truly engaging. Although the performance in this scene did not quite fully produce the BANG you would really want, over the next few weeks this will definitely become a scene to remember, as even at this early stage it drew tension and anticipation across The Rose auditorium.

However, this ‘faltering at the finishing line’ feeling happened a few times throughout the evening which is a real shame. Perhaps it should be expected of a preview evening. In the initial scenes, this occurrence was rather often and a case of ‘Ah, that’s my cue line, I say this’ followed ‘Ahh, and now that’s my cue line to which I response with this!’ seemed to strike the actors on stage.

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On the other hand, there are certainly some commendable performances worth highlighting at this early stage of the run. David Dawson’s excitable energy keeps you absorbed in the actions of his character throughout. He keeps the character of Nicky loveable, and yet manages to capture the unpredictable nature of his ability to flair up with anger at any moment. He is subtle and believable – almost giving him a vulnerable quality that you can’t help but fall victim to.

Helen Atkinson Wood, who takes the role of Clara Hibbert in The Vortex, coupled with some straight lines from James Dreyfus, playing Pauncefort Quentin, provided the audience with some ongoing comical breaks from the drama between the rivalry of lover and mother over the affections of Nicky and the subsequent affairs!

Do not be mistaken, this play is definitely a must-see for you theatre goers and if you do manage to see this play early, it’s probably worth a trip back later in the run to see how it develops. Once these actors really get their teeth into the text of this play and get to grips with their characters, this show is set to be electric! If there’s one thing Stephen Unwin’s direction, Noel Coward’s script, and this multi-talented cast can promise you, it’s an evening that is set to take you through a whirlwind of emotions!


About Adam Wollerton

Adam is a Writer and Director of Off-West End and West End Theatre Productions. He is also the Co-Founder of Curious Tales Theatre Company and is the author of LoveStuck: A New Musical.