Brighton Fringe 2016
Kim Byford’s production from Bexelei Theatre (Bexhill College) – Arts Council funded – pays rich dividends to its backers in this sharply-defined new play by Jon Barton at the Warren Theatre Box. Byford also directs the cast of nine
Bexelei Theatre Company’s a Bexhill College-based organisation funded by the Arts Council to bring a new play by Jon Barton, Persona, to the Brighton Fringe on just two nights though later performances are scheduled elsewhere. It’s directed and produced by Kim Byford.
Barton’s play focuses on the outfall on his two daughters of a death of a hated MP, Michael Fawcett, one prone to deliver cuts and kicks to the vulnerable. A youthful ensemble of nine develop a cat’s cradle of trolling and its consequences, which aren’t as one-sided as that suggests.
The two daughters Fay (elder outwardly confident Miriam Callis) and Harper (nuanced resentful Amy Louise Potter) whose mother’s depressed and sedated, are left to fend for themselves. They bring home their father’s ashes as Fay suggests, to pour into a Cooden Beach hollow so he can be taken out to sea and the farthest horizon. ‘But he couldn’t swim’ ripostes Harper. The play’s studded with such mild humour pricking against the grim spectre of three trolls who after their shock at discovering the hated MP’s daughter amongst them, cajole and seduce Fay to join them in her ‘coolness’ about her father’s death. If that wasn’t enough a journalist Rita (persuasive, appealingly soft-spoken but deadly Georgia Bellett) camps out and finally persuades Fay to create a blog.
However Fay’s honesty is self-indulgent: she inadvertently allows the trolls to track down Harper at a park bench at 2pm, with bloody confrontations. Callis projects Fay’s ambiguities, entrapment and needing approval; and her confrontation with herself with clarity, presence and commitment. Potter’s Harper smoulders in depression bringing out her secret life, seething inner resentment at being cast as younger less confident sister.
Harper’s similarly cultivating a clandestine online friendship, though for different motives. She’s hiding her depression. Online she meets a similarly depressed Lucy (Abbie Hodges) who dispenses advice on where to obtain unsupervised medication. She never goes out though has a boyfriend Zippo (a similarly under-used Joshua Rose) who online defends the sisters, being less prone to hate-trolling. More might have been made of this dynamic and these two characters; their outlying relationship has potential to become more pivotal – Rose projects a protective confidence and Hodges suggests she’s not here flexed her powers as she might.
The trolling trio enjoy a similarly fraught dynamic. Maya Little plays swotty Midge, a conscientious politico who reluctantly starts trolling. She begins to make explicit sexual overtures to Charlie (Finley North-Mckeown) who rejects her for more obvious Meryl (Ruby Hammond). North-Mckeown and Hammond relish the unpleasant chorus role with or without Little.
Midge’s journey is fascinatingly problematic, someone of wider sympathies who becomes corrupted and here does the most damage. I’m not wholly convinced that the more reflective Midge who has to keep being what she isn’t would be capable of what she does, but it’s her character that surprizes and she’s more developed; it comes as it’s meant to: a shock. She’s realized with sensitivity and sudden defensiveness by Little.
Another possibly – if necessarily – underused character is Ben (Tommy Lee-Brown) Harper’s boyfriend whom when temporarily rejected by Harper because of depression has an affair with Fay. Most of the time he’s off-stage and this resentment is merely adverted to. His attempts to connect are warm-hearted. Warmest of all however is the roller-coaster interreaction of Fay and Harper.
The play’s otherwise satisfying with a cleverly open ending. Another fifteen minutes might expand and enrich this drama immeasurably. We want to know what life, not merely the playwright, will do with the characters.
Kim Byford has worked prodigiously to create a team whose pace energy and clean dispatch is truly professional. It’s the actors too – particularly Callis and Potter with their larger roles – who really brought this play alive. Each acted with control and energy; with effective blocking and lines delivered clear, even ringing without apology. They needed to return for a curtain call though!