Edinburgh Fringe 2009
From the company that brought us Mile End comes this technically brilliant yet narratively awkward production. If you want to see what can be done in theatre in the 21st century, come and see this.
A woman sits on stage with her back turned to the audience. As the house lights are turned up, we see she is being filmed live and shown on a big screen. She talks about global rates of death and suicide. Then a woman is wheeled on-stage making her look like she is floating in mid-air. We learn of a woman who has lost her husband from suicide, jumping off the cliff at Beachy Head on the South Coast. Two film makers have accidentally caught the footage and contact the widow to make a film about suicide.
This is an extremely disciplined company. Throughout they maneuver props, cameras and lighting units smoothly and unobtrusively around the stage crouching down low in the semi-darkness. There are some excellent set features like a mirror on the back of the screen, turned around to reflect a bed rolled on stage; an atmospheric scene in a phone box as the suicidal Stephen talks to the Samaritans – wooden frames placed around him as he stands before a raging, rain lashed sea shown on the screen. And there is some beautiful imagery of Jamie standing on the cliff top, the wind being created by bits of card being blown on stage which is a nice old fashioned method and counters the more high-tech stagecraft.
However, on the whole the script doesn’t live up to the power of the imagery. It explores the themes of suicide and mortality delicately but the actual story doesn’t amount to much. There are loose ends that aren’t tied together: Why did he take his shoes off before he jumped? Why did he do it at all? The reasoning and motives don’t really add up, and the dramatic pull doesn’t really draw us in because the characterizations aren’t well drawn. The two film makers and their motives aren’t very convincing and the pathologist character is sketchy and sidelined. It would have been nice to have seen more of Stephen’s character, for most of the time he simply floats about the stage.
Although Emma Jowett as the widow puts in a good effort and Sam Taylor as Stephen acts with a quiet, luminous grace; the acting is sometimes rather awkward, perhaps because the script doesn’t allow them to portray themselves fully.
They film live scenes throughout, one where they film the widow’s hand as she reads letters on a table. This means we can see what she she is doing close up, which is a great trick, but unless it really reveals something it loses some of its impact and ends up being extraneous.
Personally, the structure of the script and the acting together reminded me of a supernatural children’s television drama. This company almost seem to be preoccupied with the technical and sometimes appear showy. Yet others would say this is unfair for they have crafted a piece that is original and technically excellent. They are perhaps trying to be too profound in their storytelling, mortality is not an easy thing to examine theatrically. Perhaps they could merge the wizardry of their stagecraft with a simpler, more accessible story, they could conjure something outstanding.