Brighton Fringe 2009
Venue: The Marlborough
One of "an epic cycle of short plays from multi-award winning writer Mark Ravenhill and a trilogy by upcoming playwright Phillip Whiteman, exploring the personal effect of war on modern life", Eschara is a three-part, one-act play, that examines the lives of a group of people impacted upon by a terrorist bomb on the London Underground.
The play opens with a woman tied up, and her ex-husband, head in bandages, a hospital drip attached to a stand, positioned in a corner, a gun in his hand, a desperate anger on his face, playing an at-gunpoint game of chess with his best friend; the game plays itself out as the victim, out of hospital with first-degree burns from a terrorist bomb, is in mid-reaction to a wife who was having an affair with this "best friend". We’re immediately pitched into a scene of tension, and just the right amount of fear that the gun might be fired at any moment.
The impact of an explosion on the London Underground, a terrorist attack, unravels its aftermath in the lives of ordinary people in this tension filled offering from Cheekish Productions. This is a play about violence and the moral high ground set in three parts.
Each of the three pieces is self-enclosed, a short episode-play and there is a thread of continuity based around the motif of a chess set. In chess there are winners and losers, there is strategy, there are positions. In Eschara, we have the same; a strength of this production is the placing of characters, their "positions" in relation to each other, their relationships as different motivations and emotional states play out and the staging of each of the three pieces makes strong use of the small Marlborough stage.
The motif of a game of chess representing the game of life is not the most original for a play exploring these issues; however there is much engaging dialogue and the acting in this piece is played out with strong intensity, commitment, and passion.
The first piece, packs a powerful punch. although for it to be shockingly believable there needs to be better make-up, not just bandages around a rather undamaged looking face.
This is a play that explores the trauma of an aftermath, such as a bomb attack, but this really can be seen as a play exploring the aftermath of any major event that appears like an explosion in our lives. The first two pieces in this production were the strongest on the night I saw it. The third was the weakest of three pieces, it fell a bit flat, and the emotional strength of the first two was lacking. .
The staging of this play was simply done with a very effective and striking set. The acting is of a high standard, with an often pitch-perfect amount of tension, particularly in the first two pieces. I have spoken with people who saw this play during its the Brighton run and they reported that all three pieces were of a similar high standard and so I must assume that the night I saw it the weakness of the final one was a one off.
This is the young cast with full commitment, the set was simple and the lighting really was supportive of the atmosphere. The striking backdrop was a burnt out underground train door. Eschara is presented with a refreshing simplicity; the first piece was wonderfully dramatic with elements of strong black comedy, the second piece was full of psychological tension with some strong, piercing looks and subtle eye contact and sharp dialogue. The final piece is rich in undertone though perhaps under-played.
A highly recommended show that will really shine if its final part can be lifted to the same level of life and intensity of the first two.