Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Six young women are the latest to go to Australia on a convict boat where their health comes second to the need to get them there. Held in line by a corrupt Sergeant and helped by a naïve cabin boy one of their number fails to make the journey though their betters, a captain and a ship’s surgeon exploit them throughout the journey and bicker over their treatment.
At its heart this is a tale told well with some decent performances set amongst a less than successful attempts at using the limited space to good effect. This is a 20-seat venue which means that the claustrophobia of the passage to Australia should include us as an audience. Such intimacy is unforgiving in the bus and any gaps get highlighted and illuminated in the glare of the performance between actors. Here the script is also exposed as the actors have nowhere to hide should it come up short.
I think the script falls just short of the mark as the profanity which creeps up take away any tension that may be built. Such a young cast struggle at times because of this and the direction does not always help with overly clumsy scene changes in the dark which on a proscenium arch stage at a distance can be countenanced but here, there needs to be a slicker approach to the venue.
Better directorial choice such as greater use of the aisles would have brought us into the action and discussions in the shadows would have helped the overall feeling of the piece. Clearly some kind of though and consideration of this had happened as at one point we got a voiceover and it was effectively used.
Furthermore, lighting and the lack of complete blackouts were not often taken advantage of and this could have been used to continue the darkness of their future.
The acting was sometimes a little stilted between characters with at least one actor mumbling at times, making it difficult to follow completely what we were about to receive. Swearing can be effective but when it becomes a substitute for the development of plot and characterisation, it is less successful. The script therefore lacked the opportunity to develop the characters effectively though, at times there were nice set pieces.
With a lack of drawing real characters for all 6 women, the one who lost her life was unsurprising as her lack of confidence was signposted whilst the reaction of the others was well handled making it an effective scene that opened the window on what this young troupe are capable of bringing year on year to Edinburgh.
The other issue of a small setting is that miming drinking rather than drinking is not only noticed but looks primary school rather than youth theatre; bigger set budget and get the cast working with real props early in the rehearsal process methinks.
Being a youth theatre, has the disadvantages of an eclectic cast but the advantages if used properly of ensuring that the diversity of ability is reflected in the choice of script. There is much to admire in the choices made here and I enjoyed the gusto and the ambition. It needs to be matched against something worthy of the cast’s diverse abilities whilst striving to challenge them and bring their experience to the fore whilst stretching it to the point of value for an audience. Zenith managed that well but there were glimpses of a great group rather than the overall genius that accompanies the idea of bringing a bus all the way from Bath to sit in the Meadows to bring art and theatre to the masses.