Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Two friends, Ed and Sarah, travel to the small squalid bedsit where Ed’s father passed away a few days earlier. As they wade through the debris, the fragments of one lost life begin to coalesce, just as another starts to show signs of cracking. A brand-new play, based on an actual afternoon.
Nicholas has died, amidst the chaos of his last months, surrounded by bottles of Cherry Vodka and credit card bills. Not found for several days – if he’d been on time paying the rent for his bedsit he might still be there now. His son Ed, supported by friend Sarah, has come to sort the place out and it’s going to be a challenge.
This is a personal story told through drama recounting Ed Coleman’s own experience of dealing with his father’s death. Written by Coleman, with James Mitchell, this is a touching story of facing your demons. Often stories of the children of alcoholics is one of their determination to be different; Ed’s story is one of fear that he will follow his father.
The writing is sharp and witty with plenty of humour despite the seriousness of the subject. The story is framed through the messages on the answerphone; a device which drives the action and is handled well – Ed listens to some messages and then stops, returning to listen to others later. It feels natural, the way we might deal with such a difficult thing. Knowing that those messages were left as he lay dead, that they will never reach him now adds to the gradually increasing tension. There are also moments of exploring items that they find; however, with so much to find, I felt that is an area that could be developed further.
Like many Fringe stages, the Dram offers a small stage. The set makes good use of every inch and creates a sense of the cluttered, now useless, detritus of Nicholas’ life. There are some nice touches of detail – gaffer tape holding a cable in place on the back of the computer monitor, washing still hanging on a drying rack, all pointing up the real and emotional poverty he lived in for his last days. However, such a small space needs very tight direction with every move planned with purpose. Especially at the moments where Ed is alone in the room and we see his pain and where we see glimpses of his father, Nicholas without the support of any spoken dialogue. There is scope here to really make the most of the power of those silent moment by making them clearer, darker and sharper.
Playing yourself in a fictionalised account of a real experience is a very tough call and Coleman handles it well, presenting a rather diffident intelligent man who is facing regrets as well as his fears of following too closely in his father’s footsteps.
There are very strong performances from both women: Ellie Fanyinka as Sarah, and Denise Stephenson as Linda. Both are likeable, sassy women, believable characters and manage the variations in pace well making good use of every moment in the text to point up Ed’s difficulties in facing the mess that needs to be sorted, both practically and emotionally.
Overall, this is a well written and engaging exploration of a real life experience. However, building on, but stepping a little further away from, Ed’s personal story to give some distance and engage with the wider themes that it presents could create a very powerful piece of theatre indeed.