Review: Leopards at Kingston’s Rose Theatre

Rose Theatre, you have been sorely missed over the past 18 months.

The applause that burst out at the conclusion of Leopards at the Rose Theatre in Kingston on Tuesday night (September 8) suggested most in the audience agreed with that statement.

The play, written in snappy and at times rapier-sharp dialogue by Alys Metcalf, and directed by Christopher Hayden, grapples with themes of the impending apocalypse, guilt, sadism and death.

It also has lighter moments.

Indeed, co-stars Saffron Coomber and Martin Marquez riff off each other like a 21st century Beatrice and Benedick at times. Their chemistry is given ample oxygen with Metcalf’s script before the shadowy heart of the play is exposed.

Marquez plays Ben, the successful CEO of an environmental charity who, like many of us, rages against the looming climate collapse while living well off the larger structures that cause it. At a luxurious hotel with an ominous, nagging thunderstorm drumming the windows outside, Ben becomes increasingly familiar with Niala, who is played with caustic energy by Coomber.

One of the understated highlights of the production is the simple, elegant set design. It immerses us in the room with Niala and Ben in a believable but unfussy setting. And it’s in this room that the pair’s jovial and genuinely funny opening exchanges about work and the woes of the wider world gather into a razor-edged focus on the present and the past they both share. Layers of understanding and memory are peeled back in frequently shocking turns.

The themes of inequality and global ruin the play clearly wishes to talk about are as present as the rain that thrums in the audience’s ears throughout the entire runtime. Yet the work explores them in an oblique way. Rather than tackle them head on, Leopards unfolds as a wider metaphor about subjects like the frightening realities of climate breakdown. Coomber and Marquez’s deft performances cast more ominous, stomach-churning clouds every moment.

In doing so they deliver a message about how a seemingly comfortable present might rest on darkness and suffering. About how the deeper context of our lives, that we deliberately obscure or ignore, can be exposed as soon as we are met with another point of view or a moment of crisis.

That reckoning may be pleaded with, scoffed at, or run from, but it can’t be avoided. It’s only a matter of time.

Leopards is running at the Rose Theatre in Kingston until September 25. Click here for more info.

Richmond and Twickenham Times | Theatre