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Brighton Fringe 2016

Simon Says

Barrington, Herriman: University Centre Colchester

Genre: Devised, Drama, Fringe Theatre, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: Warren Studio 2 Brighton


Low Down

University Centre Colchester’s Colchester Institute brings a two-hander from two very enterprising students.


Emma Barrington and Anna Herriman from Colchester Institute – it’s part of University Centre Colchester – bring a short play, a title and then – the narrative outside the play’s almost as interesting as what transpires in it.


Punters for this show are expecting either Simon Stephens or one of his plays. At a late stage not flagged up (as has happened several times at Warren latterly) the Stephens rights proved prohibitive. Left with just a booked title Barrington and Herriman themselves launched into a co-written two-hander of co-dependency. It’s remarkable enough to almost banish the minor disappointments of thwarted expectations, though the balletic opening was startling partly for extra-dramatic reasons.


Two sisters somewhere around the age of twenty struggle to come to terms with their mother’s desertion and their father’s subsequent mental health deteriorating, a trouble offstage and upstairs.


Emma, played by Barrington, is go-ahead wanting to become cabin crew for an airline; she’s also vulnerable and suggestible, lacking self worth. Lucy’s ambitions centre around keeping Emma with her at all costs. Whispers of the title ‘Simon Says’ flutter around Emma as she makes gambits for a life outside the claustrophobia of family collapse. It’s like a hive already vacated, a wasp’s nest with two circling around its death. The malice deployed by Herriman as Lucy is palpable. She prevents Emma from going out to a party by lying over the motives for her invitation, as becomes even clearer when she quizzes Emma sharply over the letter for an interview Emma instinctively hides from her. Lucy uses their father’s illness as one lever, herself as the only friend Emma has, a classic control mechanism, reinforced by the attendant dissing of Emma’s qualities.


There are some touching scenes, Emma’s birthday of around seven years earlier where it transpires even the birthday card her mother sends is a fiction. The small propos for this also function as a daisy chain of losses and possibilities.


The crisis is curiously wrought: a man’s recorded voice interviews Emma who answers confidently – Barrington didn’t synch this – until dependants are mentioned. Lucy’s imagined presence flutters around the seated Emma repeating the key phrase ‘Simon says’ with a litany of damnations. Crisis and guilt inducements roll convincingly from this with an end neither expect.


This is a remarkably resourceful duo, worth following; the acting honours are even though Harriman might edge ahead for malicious voicing and Barrington for mime, transmission of sheer hopelessness. The fact they’re returning with Nick Payne’s Constellations next year should be of interest. Both actors have learned their skills for this production mostly it seems with little support – and didn’t think to take a curtain call.


Neither venue nor Institute provided updated cast lists, though this has been an issue for far more prestigious productions this year, particularly at The Warren. There are worse things by far to end a Fringe year with.