Brighton Fringe 2009
Venue: The Open House in Springfield Road
Festival: Brighton Fringe
Robbie and Carla return home from the Far East to pay a visit to his parents. Not such a happy visit, as it turns out, as the atmosphere at home is bleak thanks to what is referred to as the ‘culture of redundancy’. His father is in fast decline, unable to sleep and hitting the bottle. His loyal mother soldiers silently on, and his brother is gone. Recriminations abound as we are immersed in the unrelenting world of devastation that men feel when facing redundancy. This is a two act play put on by Two Bins; a collective of Brighton-based actors, directors, film-makers, writers, musicians and visual artists. Its aim is to provide artistic opportunities for its 13 permanent associate artists.
Charles, once a ‘spaceman’ and now a journalist and chief sub editor to a local rag looks set to take his entire family down with him now he no longer meets the ‘criteria’ in the workplace. As the play unfolds we discover that his habit of hurting those around him is not as new as his recent redundancy.
The acting was strong by all five performers. Jett Tattersall has natural comic timing although, apart from a few snippets at the beginning, this play does not call on her to employ such skills. Except on the night that I went. In a passionate scene , accidentally undressing her fellow actor more than was presumably agreed in rehearsal, she revealed him to be a non-method actor or at least slightly less committed to the scene than she was.
It is a depressing portrait of a lower-middle class family and the writing leaves us at a somewhat detached perspective. Carla was stuck with some strange dialogue often summing up what we had just witnessed with acute and clinical observation which often leaves the male characters looking pathetic and pulls the audience back out to ringside. The play does not seem to draw us in or side us with any one character and so we are left in a rather cold position – to merely observe their depressing decline.
This might appeal or it might not. It might depend if you associate romanticism with losers, underachievers or failures.
Penhall’s play has been likened to Miller’s Death of a Salesman but differs where Charlie evokes none of the pity and sympathy one feels for the unfulfilled dreams and ambitions of Willy Lomax. Charlie somehow comes across as a less amiable, guiltier character despite his unintentional wrongdoings and despite his own childhood in which the hard lessons learned served him only as bad examples.
On the other hand it was moving to hear the sons reminisce about their father’s habit of telling them tall tales as children. These memories are now bittersweet, tainted by the stories he is creating at present whilst in denial.
As atmosphere plays such a great part in this play the production and staging was effective. The front room with which we were faced, alongside its tatty furniture, painted a dismal picture and very much complemented the characters. The set was in sympathy with the play . As it draws you in it also evokes a desire and need to get out.
The scene changes were clunky and could be improved perhaps.
There were surprises in store, one of which is cleverly enhanced by the use of good lighting and very astute casting
The play spoke about ‘lessons’ learned which leave permanent damage. It seems very difficult to unlearn the wrong lesson and various characters identify the instances which have scarred them. Robbie is fast becoming a carbon copy of his father as a result despite a generational shift that the mother identifies in the two men’s respective outlooks. Cycles seem to be in place and characters seem unable to avoid inflicting on others what they themselves experienced. The consequence of all of this and the debt they will have to pay is foreboding.