Brighton Festival 2014
This is an inventive and madcap story delivered at the hands of two skilled performers. The audience is lead into a seedy underworld of art forgery, of greed and corruption and are asked to consider what is ‘real’ and what they value most. It’s fun, fast and furious, although a bit relentless at times.
The plot is set around a couple of con artists who fake designer handbags. After a house fire, they are their driven into the more lucrative world of fine art forgery, where deception and greed lie behind every corner. Along he way, we are invited to consider how we distinguish between what is real and what is not and how we determine what has real value. The handbags that Liz and Jim make look just like their designer counterparts and are possibly better made, although they are worth less. Liz and Jim find solace in a spiritual medium, who they believe to be in contact with the spirit of their dead child. However, the instructions from beyond the grave put them in serious danger. Even the conceit of the play is questionable. We are told that David Leddy met the couple in a pub and they agreed that he could represent their story on the stage, as long as he kept their true identity a secret. But their characterisations shift – are they Glaswegian? Are they Cockney? And the plot is so sensational that it couldn’t possibly be true – could it? As Leddy states, ‘all writing is autobiography’ to some extent.
Performers Wendy Seager and Neil McCormack show great versatility in this fast paced crime caper, springing between characters and accents with alacrity and throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the action. The text is playfully written drawing our attention to its mechanics as the performers declare the end of a scene, a shift between locations or an imagined costume change. However, while the performances are entertaining, the protagonists are so slippery that I couldn’t really connect with them. I found the play rather relentless – the text was dense, the plot twisting and the delivery fast paced, with little change in dynamic, so that I couldn’t really connect with their situation either.
The production involves a very direct engagement with the audience. Some seating is placed on the stage, drawing in the playing space. These seats and others in the main auditorium are covered in paint splattered dust cloths, which also adorn the sides of the stage, further increasing the sense of intimacy between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The performers themselves welcome us at the door as we arrive in the auditorium and they brush against those on the front rows during the show. All of this helps to provoke a visceral enjoyment of the show. The audience squeal with delight as Wendy (portraying a sinister Russian oligarch) brandishes a cattle-castrating tool above her fellow performer. However, I felt that at times the production tries too hard to have an effect us. We were warned at the top of the show that the venue lights have been playing up and we simply wait for the inevitable to happen.
I enjoyed the performance but wasn’t captivated. I may have been in the minority as the audience was clearly held throughout and the applause was very warm.