Edinburgh Fringe 2012
A love triangle is explored through dialogue and song as three characters from Chekhov’s The Seagull are transformed into contemporary CND activists.
Taking its inspiration from Chekhov’s The Seagull, You Left Me in the Dark focuses on the characters of Masha, Constantin and Nina and turns them into present day CND activists. Constantin, the leader of the group, gives speeches at rallies and his girlfriend Nina joins him onstage in a song, while Masha works in the background to make it all run smoothly.
The basic premise of the play is a love triangle. Masha is obsessively smitten with Constantin, who in turn loves Nina. Nina is flightier than the other two, bestowing her love on Constantin before running off with another supporter of the group, Tregorin, who we never actually see. This has the potential for great dramatic tension that is unfortunately not fully realised.
The play is presented in a mixture of soliloquies and dialogue, punctuated by song.
Laura Lexx puts in an outstanding performance as Masha, and were this review based only on her, it would get five stars. Her depiction of Masha drowning her sorrows in drink and mourning the hopelessness of her situation is powerful and well-executed.
David Pearce, however, is unconvincing as Constantin. His acting comes across as superficial and it is impossible to believe that a character so lacking in charisma could either become the leader of a popular movement or get two women to fall in love with him, one to the point of despair.
The outfits are somewhat unrefined – the CND T-shirts look more like what you’d wear on the Royal Mile to flyer for the show than a costume to wear in the show itself – and Constantin’s checked shirt just reinforces the impression that he is bland and wet.
The set too is awkward. Masha sits behind a desk at one side of the stage, nervously fiddling with objects and pouring herself vodkas. This is very effective. On the other side of the stage though, is a white box which is translucent when backlit, opaque when not. The actors stand in front of it when they are meant to be on stage, and behind it to give the impression that they are elsewhere.
There is frequently action going on simultaneously behind the white screen and behind the desk. In a larger theatre this might work, but in such a tiny venue it is impossible to look at both places at once and it leaves the audience confused as to what they should be watching.
Also, when the characters stand behind the screen they are lit from an overhead light, but the placement of it leaves them semi-visible in a way that doesn’t look intentional. The impression is that either the actors or the light are in the wrong place.
The screen could also have been better placed across the gap in the curtain to backstage, as every time any of the actors leave the stage they flick open the backdrop in full view of the audience.
Music plays a large part in the play, but it isn’t clear what it is for or what it contributes. One of the songs is part of the narrative – Nina has written it for her and Constantin to sing at rallies – but apart from that the characters just seem to break out into song for no reason and the songs have no obvious connection to the story. This gives the play a bit of a musical or pantomime slant when the plot seems to require silence or a more subtle soundtrack.
The guitar accompaniment is also played onstage behind the white backdrop, which makes it too loud compared to the singing. It really needs to be played offstage unless Constantin is actually meant to be onstage playing guitar at a rally.
Throughout the whole performance there was the constant sound of the hand dryer from the toilets next door, which detracted from the quiet moments.
There are nice touches where Masha holds conversations with Nina or Constantin with her talking to them invisibly to one side of her, while they stand elsewhere on the stage and give their half of the conversation. These stop and start and repeat, which conveys very effectively that the dialogue is in her head as she replays conversations she has had and imagines all the things she could have said.
There are moments of great promise in the script and directing, although the climax is something of an anti-climax. The story has good potential and the idea of setting it in the setting of a young group of campaigners would work well if fully developed.
Ultimately the impression I had was that Spun Glass are trying too hard to be innovative with the staging and performance, whereas a simpler set and a closer focus on the script and the acting would be more successful.