FringeReview Scotland 2012
A Moment’s Peace has gathered us together to hear 3 pieces of theatre that look at the idea of borders. The rehearsed readings allow us to explore key themes and fledgling views before they become full productions and we are asked to participate in a discussion on the pieces heard. This is all very intriguing, allowing the audience to express a view prior to rehearsal or performance.
We are treated to 3 fragments of plays, as yet to be performed or completed. The first Invasive Species by Uma Rajah is about 2 couples – one older than the other – caught in the house of the older couple whilst there are black Romanian cats being chased and slaughtered on the outside. The young couple are brother and sister, with the sister pregnant and the brother a bigot.
The second, Flags by Alex Fthenakis tells the story of how an American actor of Greek descent decides, after his run at the Festival Fringe in Edinburgh to come to London to live. A monologue delivered by the author which is mainly true (intriguingly he told us what was fantasy and I am keeping mum…) and gives us the background to a tale of military advisers, Nazi occupation and Greek heritage.
The third, Cycles by Katherine Nesbitt is an underdeveloped piece telling the stories in3 different scenarios; a man at a bar trying to avoid communication with someone else by putting up barriers; a couple unable to discuss what is actually wrong because they cannot cross their barriers; and an older lonely woman in a relationship with a husband who has a critical barrier of depression.
Rehearsed readings, as an event, have always drawn me to them. I like the idea of bringing an audience into the process this early and testing the concepts before the mistakes get made. It also allows you to feel that there is an opportunity to influence or even a respect being given to an audience. The danger, however is that they can descend into sycophancy. This didn’t altogether happen here but whilst there was sense of each of these plays having legs that should be developed, there wasn’t a real test of them as performance pieces. Politeness – hardly a fault – certainly seemed to stop some of the criticism being expressed as forcefully as it may have been outside in the bars afterwards.
In terms of writing I found that Invasive Species the least convincing of the 3. There, however was the strongest sense of theatricality as the shooting outside of the cats brought some focus into the narratives and it had “an ending”. I was, however, confused as to why we had Romanian mountain cats and it began to take away from the discourse between the 4 characters. The younger male character, Jay, was a protagonist who had seen atrocities and become negatively affected by them and this was a character I was very interested in. The concept of an open conversation between all 4 was also interesting but then I heard a cat being shot and was irritated by it. I was looking to be more than interested.
Flags was, for me, a lovely little journey that took you on a flight of fancy that had no real end to it. The travelling though was part of its delight. It has at its heart a relatively absurd concept – that someone would give up the US to stay in London as an actor when most of our UK actors are trying to find a US base… The reasons behind it though are so well written that it not only makes sense but the telling of it becomes the joy of it.
Cycles finished the evening off with some well observed characters in monologue and a duologue that was less convincing. The man at the bar and the woman supporting her depressed husband were thoroughly convincing and well observed. The couple could, I thought, do with some work on them.
All 3 were performed by 5 actors, including the middle one which was performed by the author himself. It was well told and convincing but then again one would be hard pushed not to believe a man who is telling his own story, right. You’d be surprised… In most part the other 4 actors gave fine performances though I did feel that Finn Den Hertog, at times was struggling with little coming back from his partner in both pieces. I particularly thought both Lauren Young and David Gallacher shone in Cycles. I was particularly taken by the wonderful way that all the actors sat enthralled watching David finish his piece at the end of the first half. Highly respectful and meant that we all watched David!
The staging of the event was slightly patchy though the inclusion of Mike Gonzalez as a guest speaker post the interval gave us some context that helped the debate. Unfortunately that gauntlet was not completely taken up. Debates post readings can be so difficult and I was unsure as to whether this would fall into a genuine polemic or a damp squib. It headed towards the squib and the artistic director of A Moment’s Peace did a fine job in jollying us along to ask questions.
I would have been tempted to move David round the bar as it was difficult to see him. The acoustics meant that Uma’s contribution throughout – her introduction and participation in the discussion – was unintelligible. I did wonder if the plays needed a focus group rather than a rehearsed reading and then felt incredibly churlish. Did I enjoy it? – Yes I did. As an event it worked though having to try and explain so much takes away from performances that ought to be self contained. Perhaps explaining less would have lead to more questions at the discussion?
A rehearsed reading that charges an entrance fee needs to have a critique of it as an event. Overall this succeeded but the major issue that I had with it was that it over explained elements perhaps looking to get the audience to the point that the performers had reached after 2 days of intense rehearsals. For me too much was explained that meant I had little to question. Of the 3 I would certainly be looking at the latter 2 to visit in some form of production whilst the first – and it is a personal view – convinced me less.