The Professional – Hope Street Theatre Liverpool – Review

On Friday 18th February at the Hope Street Theatre, tucked away from Storm Eunice, with some questionable wind-swept hairstyles amongst the audience, we were treated to ‘The Professional’ – the latest production by Northern Theatre Company, The Silent Gutter.
The sold out performance, featuring Liam Powell-Berry as Martin, Lee Burnitt as Harry, and Faye McCutcheon as Shannon was written by Liverpool’s newly established playwright, Oliver Back, and directed by the very talented and long term collaborator, Emma Turner. Set in a damp dark room in a cheap roadside hotel in Nuneaton, two professionally dressed men await eagerly for a phone call they are not sure will come.

As this Beckett-esque drama unfolds, we soon learn that despite dressing in identical uniforms, with the same directions in their jobs, the two men clash in their moral compasses – one practically salivates at the thought of taking a life, whilst the other is more concerned about his health care and insurance, his only aim to be to get the job done quickly and seamlessly as possible.

Back’s writing is quick and witty, and he very cleverly links sociopathic tendencies from childhood within these characters, weaving it through to their behaviour and relationships in adulthood. This is exemplified in Martin’s speech about catching and killing spiders as a child, slowly tearing off their legs one by one, and how he revelled in this behaviour. Transcribing this to adult life, he reveals to Harry that he’s only told 30 or so women about the job he does. Harry is almost hysterical in learning this, worrying that his work is compromised – but Martin doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t care. The women cannot speak back to him, for he has already made sure they cannot respond. Harry is horrified, despite most likely already killing a few times in his job that week.

The dynamic between these two characters was credited to Powell-Berry and Burnitt, who both displayed a vast range of characterisation, embodied through their movement and executed in their speech. Juxtaposed between the frantic and the calm, whilst clashing through egos, this energy was immediately shook by the entrance of McCutheon, as she took to the stage, twisting the play in a direction that we did not see coming.

McCutheon’s medea-esque performance opened the gates to the underworld, as these uber masculine characters slowly shrunk beneath a force that was like something straight out of a Tarantino film.

You could have heard a pin drop in the moments throughout this performance, as the silence all playwrights crave took over the space – broken by nervous laughs from dark humour and controversial language, all within only one hour. It is so obvious how both Back and Turner complement each other from script to stage, and the effort in artistic direction speaks for itself.

It will be very interesting to see how Silent Gutter develops this piece even further – as it has great potential to grow from stage to screen. A fantastic effort, given by all.

4.5 stars
Sheldon Chadwick and Melissa Grindon, At the Theatre

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