FringeReview UK 2019
Rachel Bagshaw directs, designed by Cécile Trémolieres with Lighting and Video Designers Joshua Pharo and Sarah Readman with Nwando Ebizie’s Sound Design and Tom Penn enacting his own drum composition.
So Tom Penn’s original is cabin’ cribb’d confin’d somewhere. We never discover more than ‘that was before I was ill’ but it’s enough to make you want to create an avatar.
Eve Leigh’s Midnight Movie explores worlds of the mildly forbidden – whether sex or indeed loneliness. There’s points where the other actor here – Nadia Nadajarah – upbraids the other’s absence. And it gets loud. What we have is more than the electronic second-life way for people to meet: as their best selves where the virtual one starts peeling. It doesn’t always work.
Penn’s not only vocal he speaks for Nadajarah whose British Sign Language eloquence as interpreted by him is all bounced off the walls in projected white surtitles left and right according to speaker. Just a bit obscured by their too solid flesh – these white-suited people don’t shimmy in silver. If anything it’s a touch Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).
Unlike some shows evoking virtual reality – The Nether, Teh Internet is Serious Business, 7 methods of killing kylie jenner – there’s no attempt to weird us into wonder, no spangly reach of stars. In fact the brick-lipped toy house set is solid too: with its faintly tawdry walls evoking stars and back wall with palm trees painted on punctuated by two doors – one luminous for near-onanistic net sessions. There’s a fish tank stage left enacting one of the stories, drum kit to the right that Penn patterns his own composition on. And a 1970s pink kitsch bed in front of that kitsch blue sky and palm trees.
Rachel Bagshaw directs this curiously homey sweep of a virtual world where a kind of intimacy inheres in the way Bagshaw and designer Cécile Trémolieres realizes a site with lighting and video designers Joshua Pharo and Sarah Readman – there’s reaches of violet shadow here, certainly – and Nwando Ebizie’s sound design. We’re offered earplugs.
There’s narratives here – a woman fighting off an invisible intruder in a lift and ending up clearly murdered in a water tank in a Los Angeles hotel. Yet her family hint mental health issues. Hence that water tank Penn muddies like a toy death.
And like other shows enacting virtual realities some dizzying possibilities multiply, overlaying themselves in palimpsests to allow a few striking ones dominance. And here there aren’t too many at least. The dark though, this preceding story suggests, isn’t exploded, and the narrative offered us by Penn about his life in a Berlin squat with the ghost and presence of Dingo the Australian tantalizes. It opens a space where his health once breathed.
There’s none of the truly strange we’ve seen elsewhere. Penn and Nadajarah enact a fragile relationship that has to do with stories, previous health and present disability. It’s more human, more sadly adult than some shows. Yet seems a marriage of two not-quite-realised things: accommodating and rightly refusing illness as a barrier, and the dangers of fantasy versus the optimum self; not quite the same thing, and perhaps less of an issue for Nadajarah’s character than Penn’s. It’s an intriguing work that might have developed in a different direction. What we have though is absorbing.