Monday, 26 April 2010

Theatre review: 'Still' by Steve Lambert at The Bike Shed Theatre by the Particular Theatre Company 13th April - 1st May 2010

We make it one of our missions on The Blah Blah Blah Show to  support local theatre, especially where it is promoting new writing and/or innovative productions. The Express and Echo has featured several missives in its letter pages the last few days from theatre goers complaining that 'popular' theatre (by which they mean West End musicals, and established but 'safe' classics) is increasingly unavailable in the city, leading them to travel to Torbay, Plymouth or further afield. I put it to them that anyone who is a genuine lover of drama should make an effort to support the more interesting, innovative and intimate productions that are put on in the city, in the Bike Shed and elsewhere. They won't enjoy every aspect of what they find played out to them on stage - I don't either - but there is nothing like a professional show in a small space to provoke as well as entertain and their patronage may be supporting the future writer of a classic or an emerging major actor to develop their talent.

'Still' really is an intimate production, the stage shrunk to a corner of the pop-up auditorium, but designed by Phil Wyatt as a kind of Forest of Arden, the place of midsummer dreams and nightmares. The two acts are separated by a decade but otherwise involve the same couple, if a pair of characters who've only just met when we meet them can be so described. They are also separated by the mystery at the heart of the play - what happened here before, what happened here after, what is happening here now.

The dynamic of the production is wholly dependent on the projected personality of Jo, played by Rose Romain, another product of the E15 Acting School, whose female graduates seem to embody zestful energy. Her humour was a constant provocation. It is her presence that carries what might otherwise be a difficult piece, full of uncertainties I didn't find successfully resolved. It's been a week since I was in the audience and I still find myself thinking out the play which is a good sign. I'm still unsure whether my failure to work it through to resolution is a bad sign, or the its reason for being.

Mark Shorto as David has the more difficult role of an altogether more diffident man - his portrayal of awkwardness might come across as awkward acting. With just two actors on stage for the duration, a degree of empathy is required for both characters and even before the truths of who he is, what he is doing, what he has done are revealed I just couldn't understand what the two were doing together; why he had taken her to his secret place was obvious enough, why she had chosen him and gone along with it less so.

In the end, I'm not sure if there was enough on the page or the stage to deliver a fully satisfying night at the theatre. I left wondering if I'd seen a one-act play over-extended, which isn't to say that serious themes weren't being considered in Steve Lambert's writing or David Lockwood's direction.
Is it better to tell a lie or to live one? Is life about moments of magic or the passages of the ordinary that link them? Is life given away or taken? Why does a story begin and when does it end? I'm not sure if this play has found its way through those questions yet, but at least it is asking them. More rewarding than a night of songs from the West End musicals? I think so.

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