Fringe Online 2020
Jessie goes to a gig with Donna and is entranced by Allie the singer. She gets invited back to Allie’s flat. There she gets an invite to Allie’s new place, in London. As they are in Leeds, it is just a jaunt on the train down the track. When she gets a letter from her mother that explains why her mother hasn’t been in touch we go with Jessie to pack for Allie’s flat, hear of her father’s suicide, how her mother is now coincidentally down in London and she wants to see her. It is aligned perfectly so she goes, especially as her friends plan to marry and she falls out with them over that and also a phone call that accusations she hears from Donna. Once there she finds the warehouse Allie will be staying at, gets a lift from Jim, a DJ who stays there, to her mother’s place – according to the letter, hears her mother being assaulted in the flat and over the intercom, calls the police, who attend, find nothing and Jessie then spirals into a panic. Returning by taxi to the warehouse where it is now a full scale rave, Jessie continues her distress and is out of control. Causing havoc and mayhem she is stopped by her friends Donna and Paul who have followed her to London to tell her the truth; all was not as she believed.
This is a tremendous piece of theatre. Using the gig as background works well as it is the backdrop to the downward trajectory. We have smoke, pulsating noise and wild abandon in equal measure as it slows to hear the slow song and bangs up to listen to the tunes.
The principal event captivates because this has a tremendous set of performances at its heart. The presentation of how the world falls around Jessie is so well set up that you follow a narrative that is both convincing and authentic.
The writing, which is poetic and highly engaging, tells the tale wonderfully well. Heading towards the climax it is as convincing of Jessie’s beliefs as it a hedonistic car crash. It therefore works as a piece of theatre and also as poetry. The songs that accompany the piece are judged just right and are more than background, more than a canvass but part of the whole which unravels as we watch.
The direction is spot on from Donnacadh O’Briain as we weave between Jessie’s enthusiasm and the slow reveal. Between onstage action and Jessie going into the audience to get recruit her supporters in the audience, working on getting us all involved is never far away. The connection with the audience is a strength which all of the cast know needs attention. The set is what it needs to be but is also clearly, a number of relevant venues; it works well.
Performances are similarly on point. It is easy to concentrate on the protagonist and certainly Olivia Sweeney as Jessie is an incredible narrator, however Megan Ashley as Donna manages the right amount of charm and concern – especially as the train announcer, Chris Georgiou as Ralph has the right balance of enthusiasm and annoyance – career in phone messages squadron?, Ben Simon acts equally the support to Donna and the rest of the cast whilst Maimuna Memon has the pipes to equally entrance and delight. But the performance of James Meteyard as Jim who arrives at the end, though working in the background has a hard task. He needs to pitch it perfectly, after the mayhem, and when he does come back to see Jessie after she has recovered, there is a genuine ah moment because he gets it right. As an ensemble it not only works, not only convinces but tells the message in a highly memorable manner.
In Mental Health week it is often looking back which can be the wrong thing to do. Here with a performance from 2017, looking back has not only been the right thing, it is an exceptional testimony to the creative alignment of all the arts.