Brighton Fringe 2012
A Dirty Martini with Evelyn Waugh
TrailBlaze Theatre Company
Hendrick's Library of Delightfully Perculiar Writings
"Come this way, welcome darling!" with Gin in hand the roaring 1920s is the theme, parties parties and bright young things. Champagne, long cigarettes, bitching and beautiful dresses all give a flavour of the time and the cast of a Dirty Martini pull off a great visual and atmospheric homage to the darker aspects of this era.
Evelyn Waugh was a prolific writer in the early 20th century and is well known for Vile Bodies, a prickly satire about one-dimensional lost souls entrapped by physical pleasure and existential inter-relatedness, a well-chosen theme to explore by TrailBlaze theatre who have boldly developed an audience led plotline in a non -traditional theatre space, in the bitter flavour of Waugh.
This young cast give an energetic performance that has moments of excellence. There are nice moments of interaction and audience led plot twists, which are engaging, but don’t quite raise the excitement in the room, perhaps the way in which this is facilitated could be done more tightly and integrated into the dialogue with more immediacy.
The performance was well choreographed, well-rehearsed with good costumes and clever set design. The ‘water’ was interacted with well but could have been visually better. The car ride was convincing and visually strong. The performances lacked the maturity needed to deal with some of the darker nuances of the plot but the actors worked well together and interacted confidently with the audience. The venue was small enough and shaped well for this type of interaction, I’m not sure if it would work as well in a traditional theatre space.
The singing and dancing was fun although bordered below average at times. The one scene, which could be expanded was Charlie’s (sorry I can’t find a full cast list) burlesque parady performed with very dry humour, a great homage to Waugh’s earlier writings and relevant today. Charlie was very funny and held it well giving the show a more edgy and intelligent feel but it was sadly cut short. The first musical ensemble was nice and neatly done but too long. The attempts at sexual debauchment throughout the show were played a bit too safely and could be further developed to set a more convincing context. The danger of this style of acting is that is can be easy to stay at one level with it and it would have been interesting to see some more depth to the acting, whilst still keeping the characters’unattractively superficial.
Despite some line dropping and gabbled line deliveries the actors had ability and were experienced and talented. They worked hard and consistently, holding a good show together that was fun and watchable but perhaps didn’t meet the expectations of some of the audience. If theatre goers are familiar with Evelyn Waugh they will be expecting dark undertones and political comment, which this theatre piece aims to, but doesn’t quite achieve. The dark twist at the end was bravely acted but left the audience luke-warm and deflated rather than chilled. Using art as an uncomfortable mirror to society is powerful and the performance had a beautiful opportunity to explore this, I’m sure it will be able to achieve this with more tweaking to the writing and meatier delivery. The experimentation around audience choice in theatre has interesting potential and could be continued to be explored.
The venue, despite noise bleed and heavy alcohol marketing works well using the noise to its advantage, setting the context for noise, debauchery and plenty of air kissing. Despite being well staffed, it provided slow, although friendly response to theatre goers some of whom wandered about looking lost trying to buy tickets at an unmanned box office. It was easy and quick to order one of the many designer gin punches on display, quelle surprise.
As I walked out blinking into the evening sun, 21st century bright young things were ‘happily’ quaffing Hendricks gin and air kissing each other…what an appropriate setting.
A recommended show that will improve with more care to the script and delivery and more attention to and threading through of the dry humour and political cynicism so particular to Waugh.