Brighton Fringe 2014
‘Please remember to enjoy your affair responsibly’ This is not only a quote from the play but comes across like a naughty invitation in the publicity. And the play is fun. All the fun of an affair and a little of the responsibility too, as the actors don’t so much break the fourth wall as draw us through, inviting us collectively to speak the dialogue of one of the characters, so we are gathered in from the start. Written by David Greig in his characteristically form-bending, playful yet serious style, the production is very much Theatre Stramash’s own, as the text is written with unassigned characters, its only instruction being about the audience dialogue.
Theatre Stramash is a Brighton based collective brought together by Scottish actor and director Sandie Armstrong. Sandie directed the production, with Dodger Philips as movement director as well as actor, and Rachel Heaton creating the soundscape as well as acting. The cast of five catch the eye from the start wearing variations on black, red and white on a minimalist white set with a cleverly used projection screen.
At the start, the characters appear disconnected, one angry with everyone and especially with us in the character of Elaine, one getting more depressed by the minute as he searches his worst environmental fears online, one so absorbed in running that relationships take second place, and one offering counselling techniques that in the circumstances are inadequate. And then there’s us, dissatisfied ‘Elaine’, planning an affair via an online site. The play moves fast and characters sometimes collect as a chorus, clicking excitedly online and at one point hilariously voicing the equivalent of a small print health warning about the dangers of having an affair. And it is the only time I have ever laughed out loud at the little circle that goes round onscreen when a jpeg takes a long time to load.
There are so many memorable moments, emphasizing the characters’ difficulties with their own emotions and with intimacy. Elaine’s obsession with a missing apostrophe covers her struggle with guilt over her affair, while Ian finds solace and hope in the bell curve of an online diagram of human population, and the magnificently provocative Christine (Tegen Hitchens) acts a part to distract Anthony (Miles Mlambo) from his expected date.
An event later in the play brings the narrative together beautifully and surprisingly, shifting the tone of the play and bringing glimmerings of intimacy with a homecoming.
The cast work hard and are totally convincing in their roles. When I was there at the first show there was a technical hitch that is no doubt now sorted, but you would hardly have known it from the way the cast carried on. In fact a number of people in the audience thought this was intended.
The full house audience loved this sharply directed production. And at 2.30 on a Saturday afternoon it’s usually hard to find such enthusiasm. The play has four more performances in the evenings. And I’m looking forward to seeing more from Theatre Stramash in the future.