FringeReview Scotland 2013
Cardboard Fox Theatre Co, in association with their local communities have brought the age old tale of Cassandra of Troy and mixed it with the modern fascination of abuse to provide us with an interweaving story that makes good use of the venue and enthrals the audience. Whilst taking much of its story from the legend of Troy, the modern angle became equally as potent and measured in its approach to a subject with which we still struggle.
Cassandra rises from a pulpit. If it had stopped there I would have left happy but what followed was the retelling from Cassandra’s side of her betrayal by Apollo who allowed Ajax to claim her. As Cassandra begins so Michelle follows with the start of her story as a child being special to her father, Howard. It progresses with Michelle having been betrayed by her own father’s claiming of her, just as Ajax claimed Cassandra. In the final exchanges between Michelle and Cassandra, the younger appears to have learnt more than the elder and is seen putting her life back again whilst the elder is still caught in her own victimology.
This was extremely well written with clear understanding of the source text, in its detail as much as in its themes. The mixture of Michele’s innocence and the sultriness of Cassandra was well captured by the writing. I found this to be particularly true midway through when Cassandra is chastising Michelle for being critical of her. Cassandra points out that she was toyed with by a God, Michelle’s riposte that the man she trusted may as well have been a God. It then came full circle when Michelle was able to chastise Cassandra for being unable to carry on with her own life.
This was a very good piece performed well with a particularly strong performance from Kate Sketchley as Michelle. It can often be difficult to graduate and find yourself cast as a thirteen year old because the rest of the cast look that bit older but Kate was thoroughly convincing with a tenderness and naivety that made the betrayal that bit much more tragic. Martin McBride’s highly objectionable and well observed Ajax was an interesting contrast to Mike, even if we only saw Mike for a short time, Michael- Alan Read was a great and highly understated counterpoint to Kate’s Michelle as the father whilst Angela Cassidy played Cassandra as just that side of lucid. One of the problems Cassandra brings, I believe, is how to play her and keep her from being thoroughly vamp or tramp. There is the tendency, as I have seen, to also send her into two sandwiches short of a picnic territory. Angela began well but, particularly the pieces where she has visions, did tend to lurch into confusion.
The play has been directed for a park, a multicultural centre and a church. The church works wonderfully well. The coup de theatre employed at the very beginning is a high point but there are others – Ajax being upstairs, the rapes out of sight lines, the voices being all around and feeling amongst us. Where it did get a little problematic was straining to see one thing unaware of where you needed to look next. It may seem contradictory to say it but at times the strength of having the action in different places felt slightly over used.
One of the great things about new young companies coming out of the Royal Conservatoire and elsewhere – and I deliberately mean companies – is this fresh approach to almost everything. This is not a group of people content to find an agent and buy a phone that constantly rings but they wish to make theatre. The theatre that they have created here has high ambition and they delivered with spades first time round. It certainly felt like there were new ideas floating around but they had a measured and experienced director there to make sure any misstep was slight and hardly noticeable. Alasdair Hunter has amassed a decent CV in a relatively short time so he was able to provide Cardboard Fox with a very impressive springboard from which to pounce on the artistic community.
The performances, delivered in a variety of spaces, have allowed the piece to breath. I got a sense that it had benefitted from having such a shared experience. It allows the new company an opportunity to experiment and have a decent run at things – an eleven show run is hardly to be sniffed at. On top of that the choices of where it was to be performed, if the church is as good as the other three are inspired.
This showcased and made a distinct statement. For those of us in the audience and I know that many were colleagues and friends, even family but the appreciation was heartfelt and warm because it deserved to be. If you had told me that a 40 minute drama on abuse, mixed with an Ancient Greek tragedy, on a balmy summers evening, in the biggest heat wave in years, performed in a church that is off the beaten track would have been this good I would have beaten you!
Whilst highly impressed there were however one or two minor flaws. Those flaws were far from being major issues but as things progress in terms of using their space and perhaps tightening performances – a subjective view – it may mean greater success and ticket sales for the future.
Overall Cardboard Fox have a short period to go before they have to sit down and consider what next. To be honest I have little by way of advice. On the evidence of what I saw at the Church they have all the guile, knowledge and ability to do darn fine without me. I therefore have no idea what will be next for them but I sure hope to have a front row seat no matter what it is.