Alpha Beta

by Ted Whitehead

18 June – 19 July 2015

“You know… when a structure has lost its essence but retained its shape, the geologists call it: a Pseudomorph. A false shape. That’s our marriage.”

The first major London revival for more than 40 years

The first major revival of Ted Whitehead’s Alpha Beta since 1972, directed by Unicorn Theatre Artistic Director Purni Morell.

Mr and Mrs Elliot have imprisoned themselves within a domestic incarceration of marriage, family and society’s twitching curtains. Battling through their self-made entrapment for the sake of the kids, they soon begin to destroy each other through an ugly routine of rows, affairs and suicidal blackmail.

Written with a controlled irony and an underlying compassion for its tormented characters, Ted Whitehead’s bold and unflinching play asks questions about the choices we make to fit in with social conventions – questions that are just as relevant now as they were in 1972.

Originally performed at the Royal Court and West End with Albert Finney and Rachel Roberts, this new staging directed by Purni Morell and designed by Verity Quinn, will take the Finborough Theatre back to its original use, transforming the space into a domestic living room where the brutal examination of a disintegrating marriage will take place.

“I came galloping by and swept you off your feet… and then we got married and lived miserably ever after. That’s the new conclusion, that, to the old fairy tale.”

Please note, due to the unconventional nature of the set design, the audience will be seated amongst the set. The auditorium always opens 30 minutes before each performance, so that you can choose a seat that suits you best.

About Playwright Ted Whitehead

Playwright Ted Whitehead was born in Liverpool in 1933. His first play, The Foursome, premiered at the Royal Court Upstairs in 1971 and transferred to the West End. Alpha Beta premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in1972, directed by Anthony Page, with Albert Finney and Rachel Roberts. It went on to be performed at London’s Apollo Theatre. His later plays include The Sea Anchor, Mecca and Old Flames, and an adaptation of The Dance of Death at the Riverside Studios starring Alan Bates. He has also written extensively for television, including adaptations of The Life and Loves of a She Devil and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

About Director Purni Morell

Director Purni Morell is Artistic Director at the Unicorn Theatre where she has directed The Velveteen Rabbit, Dora and A Winter’s Tale. She was previously Head of the National Theatre Studio where she worked on Ajax by Timberlake Wertenbaker, Public Toilet Land by Hanna Borglund and The Leisure Society by François Archambault. Purni has worked in the literary departments of Berkeley Repertory Theatre, California, and the National Theatre and spent a number of years working as an independent theatre producer in Glasgow. As translator, she has worked for Seattle Children’s Theatre, Flemish Opera and the Northern Opera Festival. She was was recently listed in 'The Stage 100' for 2015.

About Director Verity Quinn

Designer Verity Quinn’s previous set and costume designs include The Fourth Wise Man, Seesaw, When I Think About the Universe I Laugh for No Reason and Dora (Unicorn Theatre), Private Peaceful and Selfie (National Youth Theatre), Under the Microscope (Arc Stockton and Live Theatre, Newcastle) and The Trial (The Retz). She has also designed for Northern Stage and The Empty Space. Verity is a co-founding member of Left Luggage Theatre, Club Adelphi and Precious Cargo.

About fieldwork

Alpha Beta is supported by Arts Council England and fieldwork, a collective of artists based in south London who share similar values in their approach to seeking out new form and representing the rich diversity of 21st century Britain on stage.

As part of fieldwork’s commitment to the next generation of artists, there will be a number of talkback events alongside performances of Alpha Beta. These events will be targeted at emerging artists and audience members and will be an opportunity to discuss relevant production processes with the company, particularly in terms of diversity and best practice values within theatre-making.

The Press on Director Purni Morell

“An utterly gripping and heart-wrenching piece of contemporary theatre”
★★★★, The Guardian on The Velveteen Rabbit

'Director Purni Morell has created a vivid world full of clever devices... the show's real magic is in its invitation to use your own imagination to power the story'
★★★★, on The Velveteen Rabbit

‘Purni Morell's appointment to a London's children's theatre, the Unicorn, could have as much an effect on British theatre as Vicky Featherstone's to the Royal Court, for all its redoubtable history.’
Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

The Press on Alpha Beta

★★★★ Four Stars, The Public Reviews
★★★★ Four Stars, The Guardian
★★★★ Four Stars, Exeunt

Best Male - Christian Roe
Best Director - Purni Morrell
Best Set Designer - Verity Quinn

“Raw, vibrating energy...undeniably gripping.” Genni Trickett,

“A painfully honest play...Ted Whitehead’s play caused a stir at the Royal Court in 1972 and has rarely been seen since. I can’t think why; as a portrait of domestic entrapment, it rivals Strindberg’s The Dance of Death.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“A sharp and nuanced take on regret and want...Some smart and blackly comic moments” Karl O’Doherty, The Public Reviews

“Powerful and chilling” Gerald Berkowitz, TheatreGuideLondon

“A play as relevant today as it was in 1972, and it speaks volumes about how deceptively little the changing landscape of gender politics has affected certain sections of society” Rik Baker, Exeunt

“If there’s much of Jimmy Porter in Frank, who spouts the self-conscious rhetoric of the working-class autodidact, there’s also a strong dash of Strindberg in the couple’s mutually destructive, well-rehearsed patterns of torture and recrimination... The voice of the angry young man reverberates around this two-hander of domestic strife and futile social rebellion.” Sam Marlowe, The Times

“The combination of Whitehead’s skill in creating multi-faceted characters and writing dialogue that really packs a punch, with Morell’s innovative directorial choices make Alpha Beta a fantastic theatrical experience.” Emily Jones, Bargain Theatre Land

“Watching them tear each other apart is agonising, yet fascinating. Ted Whitehead’s dialogue is generally pithy, witty and genuine...and the actors tackle it with touching realism” Genni Trickett,

“Whitehead’s writing still stings with its merciless eye for the ways in which the demands of convention can warp natural affection and the skilled techniques by which we hurt most deeply those we know best. A potent...exposure of everyday pain.” Sam Marlowe, The Times

“The quality of the acting was superb...Alternately raging and touchingly vulnerable, they were both very real, flawed people.” Genni Trickett,

“Tracy Ifeachor as the abandoned wife Norma Elliot is fantastically controlled and dangerous. Christian Roe as her husband is utterly believable” Karl O’Doherty, The Public Reviews

“Christian Roe exhibits all the volatile self-loathing of the freedom-seeking Frank, while Tracy Ifeachor uses a remarkable capacity for stillness to convey Norma’s steely anxiety” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“Tracy Ifeachor as Norma gives a scintillating performance” Emily Jones, Bargain Theatre Land

“Roe’s performance is utterly brilliant” Emily Jones, Bargain Theatre Land

“Christian Roe’s stellar performance” Rik Baker, Exeunt

“Courageous and clever staging” Genni Trickett,

“Her staging, however, which compels the audience to witness the gladiatorial marital combat at unnervingly close quarters, is gut-twisting, acted with snarling, wounded ferocity by Tracy Ifeachor and Christian Roe.” Sam Marlowe, The Times

“Skilfully directed by Purni Morell” Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network

“Purni Morell’s impressively claustrophobic revival” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“Skillfully revived at the Finborough Theatre by director Purni Morell” Emily Jones, Bargain Theatre Land

“Morell’s decision to stage the couple’s disputes in the midst of a passively complicit audience perched on sofas and tucked around the kitchen table is an inspired one: it makes us accessories to the abuse on display, like awkward neighbours who’ve just popped in at the wrong moment, who wouldn’t dream of intervening because it’s not our house, not our family.” Rik Baker, Exeunt

“The frightening scene where the couple resort to physical abuse and rampage all over Verity Quinn’s pristine white set. It is as shocking as anything on the London stage since the audience, seated in the midst of the action, become helpless witnesses to a violently disintegrating marriage.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“The design by Verity Quinn is magnificent – you literally walk into Mr and Mrs Elliot’s living room, complete with sofas, a dining table and window seats, all of which you are invited to sit upon – and then watch as this tempestuous relationship unfolds, festers and plateaus before you.” Emily Jones, Bargain Theatre Land

“A forgotten piece of kitchen sink drama getting a taste of a much more modern immersive style at the Finborough. Before the space above a pub was a theatre it was a family living room, and that's what Verity Quinn's design reverts it to for Purni Morell's production: The window shutters and usual seating banks are gone, with the audience invited to sit all around the room, as well as on some of the couches and dining table chairs, putting us uncomfortably in the middle of a disintegrating marriage.” Nick370, Partially Obstructed View

18 June – 19 July 2015

Tickets and Times

Monday 7:30pm
Tuesday 7:30pm
Wednesday 7:30pm
Thursday 7:30pm
Friday 7:30pm
Saturday 3:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm

Approximately one hour 40 minutes with no interval.