Brighton Fringe 2017
Paul Macauley writes and directs his Bug Camp at the Rialto, produced by Tim Cook for Broken Silence Theatre with Aran Knight’s frequently-changing lighting as well as a wedge of Metallica sound hitting you between the ears. Knight’s set, a camp underscores the hallmark of an individually-coloured world.
This is a remarkable off-beat play. Paul Macauley writes and directs his Bug Camp at the Rialto, produced by Tim Cook for Broken Silence Theatre with Aran Knight’s wonderfully garish and frequently-changing lighting as well as a wedge of Metallica sound hitting you between the ears. Knight’s set, a camp with glittering fire in glitz sheets and real props of pizza boxes with scattered toys, adds to broken psychedelic colours, the hallmark of an individually-coloured world.
Emmie Spencer’s Lola has had enough, and we find out why she’s off to her regressive Bug Camp, a childhood and teen hideaway where she can indulge in strawberry lace and Metallica’s James Hetfield, which is what she’s been doing for some time anyway, and not without some truth.
Spencer’s Lola presents as seven, thirty-seven or more, seven when she steals inadvertently, seventeen when she leads friend Jas (Louise Devlin) on a shop-lifting spree where stealing a Metallica CD they run slap into the security guard, Metallica’s James Hetfield who was chatting Lola up last night. School-girls? If it’s not quite Hetfield, there’s another darker absence to come setting Lola off in bleak depression, regressing in a barren spot with a large hole in it, all that’s left of the old haunts. With her she’s shoplifted pizzas and everything imaginable and her daughter from uni’s arrived, Abbi Douetil’s Tilly.
There follows the most extraordinary scene, Truth or Dare where under vivid lighting we’re treated to a gallimaufry of these, each revealing more devastating truths of loss, bereavement and a phase possibly life ended. Most memorable are dares to tongue a powerful battery terminal, eat a stick, hold breath whilst being insulted. The fluid identity of these childish games – both Tilly and Lola appearing the same age – adds to a self both ritually repeated and yet void of meaning. Douetil matches Spencer in switchback roles where their younger selves interleave with the older ones when Tilly finds Lola.
That’s after Jas does too, desperate to track down Lola who’s literally erased her life. With the arrival of ex-prefect Nut Roast aka Aleine (Josephine Dimbleby) who shares with Jas a shameful secret, the quartet’s complete. Dimbleby’s hapless preppy do-gooding attempt at Citizen’s Arrest goes awry but saves something else as they all stare down at the ground swaying sixty feet below them. Nut Roast aka Aleine just called the police, something the store detective aka Hetfield didn’t do all those years ago.
Macauley knows how to give each character a solo spot, a defining speech, around the dominant Lola in Spencer’s virtuoso shuffle of ages where she registers childish angst and an older suicidally-depressed self in an envelope of apparent comedy, balancing despair – that fraught beat between farce and devastation. Spencer has form having given NVT a magnificent Hester Collyer in Rattigan’s Deep Blue Sea recently. This role’s layered differently, but cradles despair with uneasy laughter.
Devlin’s apparently straight Jas hoards a secret and her best moments come when confronted by different kinds of rejection, whether from Spencer’s Lola or Dimbleby’s approach as Aleine. It’s not pleasant carrying their scatological implications of a nickname transferred from someone else who earned just that, but nastier was able to pass it on. Dimbleby, whose hunched-up role allows only caricature behind pebbly glasses before this now suddenly blossoms. There’s a dangerous edge to Abbi Douetil’s Tilly too, able to play child and smart student with unnerving connections between the two. Her backstory address is served on a bed of exasperation.
The denouement’s remarkable in front of a quarry fence. It’s a pity this run is so short. Paul Macauley’s garnered outstanding praise and this play adds to his reputation. All four cast give exemplary performances though Douetil and Spencer hit a top register of something teetering on tragedy, laughing over an abyss.