Brighton Fringe 2010
Venue: Upstairs at Three and Ten
Director Aine King’s reworking of Edward Bond’s 1993 television play highlights its contemporary relevance and challenges our assumptions about morality, heroes, innocence and authority.
Stripped down to a tight three-hander, the production achieves the rare effect of reaching the head and heart at the same time in equal measure. I was gripped throughout and went away with no easy answers.
The play is set in real-time in the bedroom of a teenage girl, Irene (Laura Corbett). When her equally young boyfriend Brian (Andrew Burse) appears unexpectedly, checking the windows and in a bit of a state, it quickly becomes clear that he is not on leave but has run away from the army and has no intention of returning. He is, in effect, looking for sanctuary. But as soon as Irene’s ex-army dad (Jonathan Rice) returns from looking for work at the Job Centre, it is clear that sanctuary will be hard to find. From there on in, nothing proceeds as you might expect it to and heroes are thin on the ground.
This was my first visit to Upstairs at Three and Ten, and I liked the way the intimate pub theatre setting matched the claustrophobic atmosphere of this play.
The messy trappings of a girl’s teenage life – a floor littered with magazines, schoolwork on a desk with pink fluffy pencils, a bra stuffed down beside a bean bag – made the space seem too small, too feminine to house her frightened army boyfriend and her volatile father as well as Irene, and the staging of their performances emphasised this sense of them all being trapped in a space that was too small. Like their lives, it couldn’t contain them this way for long. When Brian recounts two stories from his desert war, the space transforms and expands (with the help of the subtle soundtrack) but the moral anxiety becomes even more intense and immediate.
Bond’s dialogue resonates beyond the play itself because his characters act like real people, not ciphers. They act and react on impulse; they can be equally concerned about exam pressures and patricide; oppression is masked as concern, love turns to blame and there is no language for life-changing experiences.
The actors rise to the challenge of this complexity with remarkable skill. Laura Corbett’s wide-eyed observation of the dynamic between her boyfriend and her father expresses innocence as well as a hawk-like readiness to pounce on her own opportunity for escape. Andrew Burse is perfectly cast as the young soldier achingly caught between childhood and ‘being a man’.
He is equally convincing whether unselfconsciously hugging a soft toy for comfort or holding a gun to the head of his girlfriend’s dad. And Jonathan Rice as Irene’s dad is chillingly threatening as he wraps up his need to throw his weight around ‘in his own house’ in apparently friendly overtures towards Brian and reasonable concerns for his daughter.
The audience engaged with these characters and their dilemmas and enjoyed the moments of humour. If there is room for development of this piece, it is along the lines of ‘more of the same’, which is what will probably happen if the production has a life beyond this short run at Brighton Fringe Festival. Aine King was courageous in taking on this complex piece and amending an already tight script, and it has paid off in this very highly recommended production.