Brighton Fringe 2017
Following a successful run at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2016 and in London, the play is now touring the UK with its first date at Brighton Fringe.
Choosing a title for a play is often a fraught process, but in 2015 the sub-editor of the New York Times handed Fledging Theatre Company a pearl. “They Built It. No One Came” was the headline to an article about a gay couple who set up a commune in Pennsylvania in the late 1980’s. They had a vision of building a spiritual brotherhood but, you’ve guessed it, no-one came.
The true-life story sizzles with relationship problems, homophobia, unrealized dreams, bucolic pleasures and disappointment. It is rich ground for theatre-makers and here is turned into a play with songs; a fictionalized account combining comedy with pathos as it explores ideas around community, love and faith.
The action starts in the present, with amiable optimists Tobias (Christopher Neels) and Alexander (Patrick Holt) coming to terms with the failure of their grand plan for the brotherhood of Humbleton. Whilst they have relished being with nature and the hardships of living off grid, the years spent alone make them peevish. Alexander is possessive about his rake, Tobias about his seeds. No amount of Walt Whitman quotations can save them; this is not going well. The sudden arrival of lost soul Pablo (an intense Callum Cameron, also the writer), seeking somewhere to live safely and freely, brings them hope. But Pablo is a bundle of neuroses and the catalyst for events taking a darker turn.
Director Lucy Wray keeps the action moving and delivers a couple of real theatrical shocks in an unfussy, lo-fi production. Some physical sequences don’t always serve the story but they do give air to a word-heavy piece. As a strolling player, Edoardo Elias provides an objective commentary in comedy songs, making a welcome connection with the audience.
Whilst you never get a strong sense of the characters romantic relationship, the performances have passion. Tobias and Alexander’s lack of charisma, failure to recruit any followers and unending faith in human nature is played for laughs; the text is full of sharp one-liners and neat observation.
But as the narrative moves back in time this jaunty vibe rubs against the harsh reality of the story they are telling. When the characters bare their souls in the final section, it’s as though as actors they have shed a costume and stopped ‘playing’ – a rather jarring shift in tone.
The play is an intriguing and entertaining hour, competently staged and well performed in less than ideal circumstances (it felt like a noisy tin shed with an overly wide stage, for a small, if appreciative, first night audience).
As their name suggests, Fledging is a young company with just three productions under their belt. They’ll fly soon.