Edinburgh Fringe 2010
A delightfully deranged, gruesome and gothic piece of new writing, directed with flair and excellently performed
N10 Productions are a young theatre company from London; they made their Edinburgh Fringe debut this year with a production of Marber’s “Don Juan in Soho”. This year, they present a strong new play from eighteen year old Billy Barrett, demonstrating raw talent beyond their years: the writing is sharp, the direction is spot-on, and the standard of the acting is generally high.
The plot of “Virtuous Flock” is a simple one. An abused young girl returns from the convent for her father’s funeral, and, after an otherworldly encounter, decides to murder the three women who dominated her father’s life: his boisterous, obnoxious wife, his flaky French live-in mistress, and his housekeeper (with whom he’s also been intimately involved). We follow protagonist Penny as she systematically kills off the older women – all of which were performed with enthusiasm and energy. The three ex-lovers are by far the most fleshed-out characters in the play; they have the best lines, they’re the most fun to watch, and the actresses give truly memorable performances. Not every character is quite as strong – it would have been nice to see more character development from Penny, for example – but the acting is of a uniformly high standard.
In spite of the above criticisms about character and plot, a special mention must go to the writing. Barrett’s play is remarkably clever, sharp and entertaining: it’s hard to believe that someone of his age could write a play of such quality. I’ve seen people twice his age present new writing that isn’t half as good: Barrett is a talent to keep an eye on, because he’s likely to go places. A couple of the one-liners miss the mark somewhat – but the humour in this black comedy comes not from the jokes, but from the macabre, brutal and darkly comic ways in which Penny dispatches her victims. This is not a show for the faint of heart: a highlight of the show comes at about the three-quarter mark, when the young girl murders the housekeeper, egged on by spirits from beyond. It’s horrible, it’s excessive, and it’s (literally) bloody brilliant. From a relatively slow start, the play builds and builds into a gruesome crescendo that will ignite your bloodlust and leave you wanting more by the end.
The play is directed with flair: it’s slick, polished, and engaging; the set is simple, the black, white and red colour palette makes the whole show look visually bold and striking. The music (both live and pre-recorded) should also have a special mention: it’s incorporated brilliantly, and used in a way that layers a very cinematic piece of theatre without distracting from the action. The director clearly has an eye for detail and a detailed vision for the play, and brings the very best out of her talented cast.
“Virtuous Flock” is consistently impressive and entertaining: the script is tight with no excess or flab, the production values are high, and the ensemble of performers give it their all. This is a polished piece of new theatre from a company to keep a very close eye on; personally, I can’t wait to see what they do next.