I booked tickets to My City before I heard about the cast and I was pleased to discover that Tom Riley, late of Arcadia on Broadway, would be one of the leads. I became obsessed with Arcadia for most of the spring. It is by far my favorite play of all time and the Broadway production was a wonderful interpretation, largely due to Tom Riley's wonderful turn as Septimus.
So I was excited to discover I would have another opportunity to see him in a show.
My City is an unusual ode to teachers and special students they influenced. The premise is that Richard (Riley) stumbles upon his old primary school teacher (Tracey Ullman) lying on a park bench and discovers she wanders the city by night. This teacher was a major inspiration to him and he cannot quite figure out what has set her on this new path. The play was written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff. Though a well-known UK playwright and TV writer, I was not terribly familiar with his work.
The play focuses on the stories that the teachers used to tell the children and these are some of the best bits of the play. The focus is on how these teachers through these stories helped children who struggled and the stories gave them a window on the world. Though the teachers are now older (and so are the "children") they continue to revel in telling stories that spook, chill and maybe even inspire.
Tom Riley really does a nice job with the role. Without revealing too much, I was surprised by the character's journey and he handles the performance with aplomb. He has shown that in both Arcadia and My City he can charm the pants off the audience. He can make duplicity sweet and forgivable. I enjoyed seeing him in a contemporary work and frankly I hope he returns to Broadway again soon.
The other former student, played by Sian Brooks, is also fantastic. She's a more straight-forward character but Brooks in a dynamic and compelling way conveys the character's fierceness and inner strength.
I struggled more with the story the writer was trying to tell about the teachers. Things got really murky really quickly. Of course, teachers are people too but here the writer drifted into a mysterious place with these teachers. Sadly, I was more confused than intrigued. David Troughton was heart-breaking and although I am still a little puzzled about what was happening with his character. Tracey Ullman if anything was a little dull. Her character is supposed to be enigmatic but it came across as frosty and boring. Sorcha Cusack seemed unhinged and though that may have been the character she was playing I felt like it was weirdly out of place.
I had read some not great reviews so my expectations were low. In the end, I found myself largely enjoying the journey even if I did not find the work wholly satisfying. In a season where I saw both Mark Rylance and Daniel Kitson present various types of storytellers I feel like these storytellers suffered in comparison. But on it's own merit, it was sweet, sad, heart-breaking, and moving at various points and was certainly worth the time.
*For the record, and quite sadly, no pants (UK or US meaning of the word) were actually physically charmed off anyone in the show but metaphoric pants (US and UK) definitely.
**For the record, I use the words "pants" a lot I have discovered. This would be fine except I mean trousers and in the UK they mean underpants and I often sound a lot more salacious here than I mean to.