FringeReview UK 2017
Sam Chittenden’s known as an actor/director who’s developed fine theatre work of late and So You Say is her most ambitious, which she also directs and produces in conjunction with Different Theatre. Premiered at the Brighton Fringe it makes its way to the Tristan Bates Theatre at the Actor’s Centre London. Simon Scardanelli’s sound design with Frances Allison’s technical support adds a glint to the Bates’ black box, scoring the lovers’ interregnums with melancholic aplomb. To August 19th.
Sam Chittenden’s known as an actor/director who’s developed fine theatre work of late and So You Say is her most ambitious, which she also directs and produces in conjunction with Different Theatre. Premiered at the Brighton Fringe it makes its way to the Tristan Bates Theatre at the Actor’s Centre London. Simon Scardanelli’s sound design with Frances Allison’s technical support adds a glint to the Bates’ black box, scoring the lovers’ interregnums with melancholic aplomb. A two-hander with Charly Sommers and Russell Shaw, it might be summarised as ‘exes are exes for a reason’.
That doesn’t stop Sommers‘ Jennifer contacting Shaw’s Ollie out of curiosity, a need to revisit her past, why she liked him in the first place. She can’t have children, he apparently has two sons.
It’s not as simple as that, despite the elegance of material. Through a litanic overlap of repeat scenes and variations of tone we’re knotted with one or two points at the centre whose outfall – in this unskeining of a fifteen-year past – marks those small shocks strong enough to resonate when they’re now forty-two and forty.
The variations aren’t of the Constellations order, a smorgasbord of what-ifs or wrong turnings. Rather it’s a Cubist revisiting of the same material, the same talk edged with a different emphasis, sometimes both talking at once then unpicked so you can hear each monologue separately. Chitttenden uses naturalistic overlap and splitting and re-running schismed monologue as two ways of listening to the same story. It’s not the same though, and at key points something’s added, usually, or concertina’d. There’s touching details, games, jokes, tenderness, and once terrible rage.
Mention of Ollie’s family touches the narrative back further, to when Ollie and Jennifer took time out from each other. There’s a confession. Or is it? A redemptive reason is put forward, then just as swiftly flipped. It’s a masterly moment and the kernel of Chittenden’s singular vision. Another comes when Ollie releases demons. Shaw has the tougher assignment: Ollie seems affable in a bruised manner, but he’s never addressed hurt. His brooding ushers in a startling revelation, even to him. Shaw’s particularly good at unpacking a fragile liberal blokiness with shivers and snarls. Sommers bounces off this with looks, second-takes and baffled reasonableness. She smoothly conveys just how slippery Jennifer’s premises are.
Chittenden’s excellent at wrong-footing chronology: you realise swiftly the flashbacks or the reminiscences. But the palindromic way two scenes – mirror opposites – of taking the blame or earlier giving it out, are posited in a question mark teases and intrigues. Is the blame-game a later development, are they both in the past, or both versions of now?
Which, in fast is the truest of their fictions, and should any one of them take precedence? If there’s any objective positioning – and Chittenden suggests that’s debatable – it might ever be presented by the protagonists.
Mostly despite the switchbacks and repetitions we’re brought forward to the consciousness of what meeting up after fifteen years entails. The fall-out, catharsis, and re-opening of wounds makes you ask: is it worth it? The end though loops us back to that insouciant opening, Jennifer’s curiosity. The permutations aren’t situationally endless, but emotionally so. In a play of pared elegance Chittenden asks a profound question: just what we can choose to experience of our experiences? It’s a small gem of inward acrobatics, and makes one eager to see even more ambitious work from this rising dramatist.