FringeReview UK 2016
Inspired by the author’s travels in the USA, this new play by Simon David Eden is a “psychosocial black comedy, which unfolds over a single day, in a sleepy, blue-collar backwater of Massachusetts, New England.”
I sometimes read a review of a play I myself then go to review and step out afterwards wondering if I’ve seen the same play as that other reviewer. This piece of new writing by Brighton-based Simon David Eden can be enjoyed as a ninety minute comedy crime caper but it is also much more than that.
To go beyond the enjoyable verbal knockabout comedy you’ll have to meet it with your own full attention as lines and ideas come thick and fast, side swipes blend with a deeper consideration of the plundering by cultural arrogance and imperialism of native America and the insecurity and greed of men.
The writing is deft, authentic, full of sweet, poisonous one liners, lyrical sadness, loaded with irony, confident in its well researched core material and, ultimately, rooted in fluent anf painfully funny dialogue. It lays down a challenge to three actors to be on top of their game from first to last moment as every word needs a look, and every look needs a stance, and every silence places the performers in important dynamic relationship to each other. I savoured some priceless one liners and set pieces, and was sometimes reminded of the best of Galton and Simpson and Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Happy Birthday Wanda June’.
This is a three-hander set in a shop and the set is splendid. Theatre can be minimal and immerse you in world for an hour or so. As a stage designer you can also “go for it” and build a set that invites the audience quickly in. Within moments of lights up, we were in an outback Massachusetts general store designed with an impressive sense of vision and attention to detail, and, throughout the ninety minutes, I was there, in that store with the three characters – three men all on the edge of nothing and living in the midst of too little.
That core design is a big virtue of this production and necessary as this play really is location-important. This is a play on, and surrounded by “the Land” and these are buildings that hark back to times when invaders ousted the indigenous population, marginalising them and even subjecting them to laws and bureaucracy that undermined traditions dating back millennia. We were in the present but also back in the times when we – the usurper – took land from others.
The golden eagle is a powerful and precious symbol to many cultures around the world, not just the tribes of Native America. In powerful and darkly comic fashion a golden eagle assumes epic importance in this play for two white and one black Americans for all the wrong reasons laying bare, not only their own stupidity, insecurity, clumsiness and greed, but a a whole nation’s at the same time.
The American Dream involved bringing the original “nations” crashing down to earth, like a bird torn from flight. Simon David Eden lures us into a light comedy but then embellishes it with important questions and challenges America and the wider world to reflect on its own actions. The genius of the writing is its almost total lack of polemic, even as it offers powerful thoughts and impulses to we, the audience. It is through the behaviour of people and governments that we realise what we need to native America. And yet we are also given fun comedy and an enjoyable, clever story with a few rattlesnake stings in the tail along the way.
All of this is put into the hands of the three male actors, Charlie Allen, Geoff Aymer and Nicholas Boulton and they inhabit their characters fully, realised in voice, posture, gesture and in movement. This is a big strength of this production – the well modulated and consistently high quality interaction between the three actors. Some excellent comic timing in the verbal interplay blends skilfully with the silences and emotions and the moments apart needed for the more serious and subtle elements.
The production is at the first stages of its development and there’s scope for some dramaturgy. In places the piece feels too slow and then the words spoken by the actors make them feel too much a mouthpiece for the writer’s intention. When that happens, there are three separate performers delivering (admittedly very well) lines loaded with meaning, but at the expense of the dramatic tension and the narrative flow. It’s as if the whole enterprise is taken down a gear because the writing becomes more important than the theatrical aspect. In places that needs re-balancing. It works better when it is pacey and when the three actors really weave their words together, and when the writing is put totally to the service of the theatre craft.
Overall, the standing ovation at the end of the play was well deserved. Witty comedy, tension, sadness and political satire all join together to offer us a full-hearted and full-on theatre production.
I highly recommend you see The Alabatross 3rd & Main, for an excellent comedy that is rich, dark, well designed and acted, play loaded with wit, wisdom and the courage to examine some important themes.