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Edinburgh Fringe 2010

Memory Cells


Genre: Drama

Venue: Pleasance Dome


Low Down

This is not a particularly easy watch, and certainly has no such pretensions. It is is stark drama exploring the twisted relationship a kidnapper has with his captive in the basement of his house. It’s not nice but as a piece of writing it’s very good.



The stage is set with five boarded up doors, it is bathed in a sickly yellow light and in a bed lies a girl. Eerie sound effects grind and click like in a mental asylum. This goes on for some time as the light and sound effects work in unison to create a air of grim hostility. Enter a man in his fifties, he is tall and broad and wears a light blue shirt and jeans, a look and presence that feels vaguely uncomfortable on the stage. Is he her father? Her kidnapper? Her lover??

And so as the play goes on we are slowly drip fed information in non-linear, seemingly reverse order as the two characters reveal themselves. Barry has kidnapped Cora, raped her and convinced himself he loves her. Cora tries to convince him to let her out into the sunshine by playing mind games with him, but he doesn’t budge.
To me the script comes across like a short story. it is complex and dark and belongs in the realm of crime fiction. There are tangents, false clues and a lot of metaphorical verbiage. It is hard to work out how Cora feels about Barry; she is clever, but her manipulations just bounce off him as he continues his calm, relentless malevolence. But it feels very pessimistic and unforgiving.
The interesting structure and setting, helped by the technical effects, has allowed Hannah Eidinow to create a threatening sense of place. She has directed her actors with relative precision and fluidity, and it is well paced. But as a whole the play doesn’t really have the dramatic tension or enough interesting elements to make it memorable, so unfortunately, what you come out thinking about is its dark material.
Barry, played by John Stahl, inhabits the space with a kind of brooding, nimble evasiveness, and he delivers his lines and inhabits the character with discomforting certainty. Emily Taaffe as Cora also gives us a fine performance; she builds a brave character who tries to win Barry over whilst at the same time falling into gradual despair.
This is a good production of a well crafted play; but for me personally, writing this kind of dark, unrelenting material for the stage seems like a strange thing to do, and choosing to direct it even stranger. Reading, or watching it on the screen is one thing, but on the stage all I was left with was a rather nasty taste in my mouth.