Theatre review: The El Train at Hoxton Hall

Watch Ruth Wilson (Rose) and Simon Coombs (Tim) in The El Train tonight.

Watch Ruth Wilson (Rose) and Simon Coombs (Tim) in The El Train tonight. - Credit: Archant

An emotionally charged portrayal of life in 20th century New York, The El Train is an eye-opening and powerful performance that immerses the audience from start to finish.

With the lights dimmed and the rhythm of a seven-piece ragtime band swelling through the hall, the stage is transformed into a depleted apartment block with features such as iron railings and exposed brickwork completing the effect.

While the set design alone is visually encapsulating, the scenes that unfold in each of the three one-act plays provide a sobering glimpse into the lives of an impoverished society riddled with prostitution, violence and broken relationships.

Making her directorial debut with ‘The Dreamy Kid’ and starring in ‘Before Breakfast’ and ‘The Web’, Ruth Wilson (‘Luther’, ‘The Lone Ranger’) excels in both roles.

She delivers a particularly arresting performance as Rosa, a poverty-stricken prostitute struggling through life in ‘The Web’.

Her piercing cries of “God”, coupled with the deafening sound of an overhead train, as the play closes stings with injustice and produces an electrifying atmosphere.

A gritty and turbulent production, the actors manage to convey the underlying desperation of each scene, at times making it difficult for the audience to decide with whom their sympathy lies heaviest.

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Through the tension and the violence, The El Train also provides heart-wrenching moments of tenderness, such as when gangster ‘Dreamy’ holds his dying grandmothers hand in her final moments.

The fluidity of the transition between each play is owing to the astounding vocal and musical performance by the band, with the production a near faultless depiction of the dark world of low-life New York.

The ‘Hell Hole Saloon’ bar inside the hall, which serves re-workings of cocktails from the era, is an extension of the hotbed of action on stage, and elevates the production as something which is experienced, rather than witnessed .

****

The El Train is at Hoxton Hall until 30 December.

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