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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Underneath Ms Archer, at St Martin's Theatre - 85 minutes, without interval

It takes a while to understand just what is going down here, but – make no mistake – Underneath Ms Archer is a stunning, original work.

Behind it are the two outstanding actors.

Louise Siversen plays veteran flight attendant Kelly Archer, while Peter Houghton is cast as medieval knight Willliam Marshall.

Photos by Darren Gill

The pair wrote the piece, with dramaturgy by Chris Mead, while Houghton also directs.

Never short of using colourful invective (there is liberal use of the “F” word), we meet a stressed Archer in a London basement apartment.

There, she is trying to book an urgent flight back to Perth on any airline but her own and has been put on hold.

At the same time, she is being pursued relentlessly by the media, although we are not clear as to why.

With no-one else in the room, clearly Archer has a bee in her bonnet about something or things other than her ticket.

She is paying out on someone she knows well and expressing her angst at a run-in she had on a flight with a person she calls passenger 48.

As the play unfolds, all is revealed.

The biggest shock comes with the arrival of a man from the Middle Ages dressed in armour, covered in dirt and appearing to speak a foreign language.

With him is a sack containing, among other things, an important manuscript.

His appearance is particularly disarming and an undoubted highlight of Underneath Ms Archer.

So, what is the connection – if any – between Kelly Archer and the man who we find out is William Marshall?

What is he doing here and what does the pair have in common?

Both are clearly troubled and looking to assuage their concerns.

Underneath Ms Archer is a spectacular production, featuring a large, imposing set (Sophie Woodward and Jacob Battista were responsible) and superb performances.

There is gravitas in the way Siversen and Houghton go about their business … in assuming the characters that they do.

They are fully invested throughout and don’t put a foot wrong.

What we see is comedic, dramatic and heartfelt.

Archer’s potty mouth fits comfortably alongside the series of pithy zingers she delivers and Siversen is mesmerising.

Houghton gives as good as he gets. What a knockout! His representation of a man coming to terms with suddenly being thrust into an era where selfies are the norm and hot showers haven’t yet been invented is priceless.

Composer J. David Franzke’s sound design is inspired. The sound effects work brilliantly. Bronwyn Pringle’s lighting adds a further layer.

It is impossible not to be impressed by Karine Larche’s metallic ring armoury and striking green “hostie’s” ensemble.

Underneath Ms Archer may take a while to pick your way through, but it is well worth the effort. It is a ripper and is on at St Martin’s Theatre until 16th July, 2023.


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