Camden Fringe 2011
The elements that make a great fringe festival play include: Length no more than an hour and certainly no interval, a simple and innovative set that is easily put together and pulled apart, making it time saving and cost effective, excellent writing or composition and a versatile and convincing set of players. Effective lighting and sound design is enjoyed, but not crucial as long as the first four are spot on. Stopped Clocks tick all these boxes and more besides. Their simple fascinating journey into the lives of a few Waterloo road style teachers and their friends and family; and at it’s heart the story of a man suffering through his grief and the people he interacts with on the journey to the other side.
Engaging, powerful, and dramatic and peppered with comic twists and turns, what is lovely about Stuart Price’s Oblivion is that it doesn’t sugar coat and the characters are both believable and very real. There is very little that is predictable about this play, and the story is very well realised, offering tit bits of information for the audience to slowly piece together the puzzle. It is however the sort of subject matter that in certain parts could have pushed the envelope a little further.
Several of the characters could have done with more fleshing out, purely because they are engaging and interesting such as the suitably harangued mother of two kids and sister to the protagonist, Joanne, played with skill by Jessica Harris, and as an audience member you are undeniably curious and want to know more about them. However in saying this the character of Shane is exceptionally well thought out. His journey through the play is brilliantly choreographed giving him a lovely arc of a adventure whilst maintaining the integrity and truth of the character. Shane is played by the very talented David Beck who manages to realise that wonderful balance of downtrodden and emasculated with a spark of humour and cheek that shines through a pinprick and gives the audience the sense that he hasn’t always been this down and out. He is supported perfectly by Samatha Schefele as the bubbly new to town teacher Elaine and their onstage chemistry is very well realised and believable. Neil Frost is also excellent as sexually frustrated and uptight Ian, a teacher with a newborn. This company of performers, though not always on stage together feel extremely interconnected and thoroughly watchable.
The set is as simple as a few pieces of metal scaffolding pinned together and these shape the various scene changes including a living room, a bike shed, a class room, and most innovatively a roller coaster among other things. Writer/Director Stuart Price has done an exceptional job of creating the various locations and this is by far the best use of props I have seen in a fringe production in a long time. The changes are smooth and do not slow the story. It is impressive that these places are so well realised with just 3 pieces of metal and a few chairs. Oblivion’s soundscape has been beautifully constructed and is both comforting as it uses music and a soundscape to return to certain locations and powerful in heightening and moving the storyline forward.
Oblivion is an engaging piece of new writing that has the potential to grow into something even more powerful. Billed as a comedy, it does have some very funny moments but this is a piece of dramatically charged, emotionally driven theatre and the writing is thoroughly complemented by the company of actors performing it. Unfortunately Oblivion only had a short run at the Camden Fringe. Hopefully you will see this play at a festival or theatre near you soon.
Stopped Clock are definitely a company to watch out for. Their work is beautifully written and very well staged. A must not miss event if it comes to your town.