FringeReview UK 2019
An in-house production by Theatro Technis, written by Magdalena Steffani. ‘Ashes’ tackles themes of belief, redemption, and loss.
Set in an isolated house, occupied by a spiritual cult, ‘Ashes’ tells the story of a group of people who seek redemption while still battling their inner demons. When the house is mostly destroyed after a fire, the commune has to decide upon the future of the cult. It doesn’t take long before this disaster forces them to show their true colours and come to terms with who they really are.
The play is beautifully staged and the set and lighting create a very realistic atmosphere. There is good attention to detail and the stage truly transforms into the residency of this spiritual cult. We are welcomed into their world from the moment we walk into the theatre. The play begins and we are introduced into their way of life over Thanksgiving. As the story unfolds we meet six of the cult’s members, including their leader, although it is suggested that more live there too. The two characters driving the story are Aiden (Alexander Dover), who appears to be the newest member and Elenore (Sophia Priolo), the most dedicated member. Please note: due to injury of the original actor, Dover only joined the cast last minute and as a result needed to have his script in hand.
Overall the play is well structured and well written. By focusing on the lives of these people who either seek redemption or purpose in life, it shines a light into some very relatable problems we all face in modern society. It highlights the struggles for individuality, freedom, love and meaning and even the struggle of trying to not lose faith. And the staging, as well as the good use of sound effects and lighting, does justice to these themes.
However, the production felt very under-rehearsed and that inevitably dragged the quality down despite all the other merits. While of course, I appreciate that Dover had no option but to be under-rehearsed, having joined the production last minute, he seemed to be more prepared and embody his character better than some of the other actors. It felt almost as if the cast was reluctant to connect with their characters and their individual journeys. The first moment that this really became clear was the scene of the fire. There seemed no real attempt from the cast to convince us of the panic they were going through but relied heavily on the lighting and sound to do the job. The blame cannot fall entirely on the actors, especially as this was not a case of “bad” acting, rather lack of connection. The director is also responsible and potentially the budget that might have forced the company to rehearse less than they really needed.
Having said that, Andrew Edinburgh in the supporting role of Freddie seemed truly connected to his character and his few appearances provided some excellent comic relief to an otherwise heavy piece. Priolo (Elenore) also had some lovely moments that captivated the audience, especially in her scenes with Dover (Aiden) and Ash Sanchez (Cissi). In fact, seeing the same actors truly connect in some scenes was what made it really evident that the piece would be lifted by a few more rehearsals.
Seeing the production as a whole, this is a very promising piece by Magdalena Steffani and it was staged very well, but the reality is, it is the actors that eventually tell the story. And in this case, the actors needed to commit more.