Blurb can have a heavy influence on the decision to see a show, especially a new one. Adjectives are a must, yet run with them too far and it can be a turn-off. In this show’s blurb there is much to like, for example ‘site specific’ and ‘Nell Leyshon’ (granted the latter isn’t an adjective but it’s a good indicator of quality work). Go that extra mile and stick in ‘ground-breaking’, ‘outsider artists’ and ‘visceral’ and the alarm bells start ringing. Describe something as pertaining to deeply felt emotional reactions and Captain Cynicism kicks in. Emotions are like farts; you can stand your own but you can’t stand others’. Granted, this is probably a generational thing but sometimes less said, the better. Don’t tell an audience that something is going to happen, just let it happen.
OK, the last paragraph was written five hours ago. It’s gone 2 am and this is the fifth draft. Attempts to articulate haven’t been forthcoming, and then it hit… this performance just isn’t visceral, and so much the better because of it. Although the audience is presented with four monologues about parenthood, the issues and perspectives are far more wide-reaching than this. The blunt, terraced writing courteously lacked the verbosity that would have led it down a melodramatic cul-de-sac. What made this engaging was the lack of histrionics in the delivery of the writing, with varying degrees of success, for each oration. In a way this was more than just a theatrical experience, bordering on one side towards catharsis, and on the other a sociological observation.
Alex Shore’s stage design was effectively efficient, reflective of the performers’ current positions. The promenade style was deftly used to set up four simplistic yet blindingly individual performing areas. With a minimal, yet most appropriate lighting design, the ex-NHS warehouse on Wickham Road was succinctly and pithily converted. Although not an original sentiment, it lent its surround well to an almost Brechtian stripping back of the illusions of theatre and, like the monologues, laid bare an almost rough and ready punk-like energy of keeping it simple, keeping it hard.
Cecilia Gail’s performance was the most compelling of the evening: almost overwhelming, but in a good way. The simplistic and basic honesty in delivery and lack of physical expressiveness gave an ironic self-assuredness. The seated dispensing with a nonchalant easy often gripped and led us to places where you don’t necessarily want to go. Neatly contrasted to this was Scott Lavene’s piano-accompanied address. The juxtapositioning of Gail’s uncomplicatedness and Levene’s Ian Dury-esque sense of the theatrical diverged well enough with each other, but its impact was slightly lessened because of its more polished nature. This sounds a weird criticism but it jarred a touch with what had gone before. This is in no way a reproach of Lavene’s performance, which was often insightful and humourous, if a little longer than necessary. Jane Cartwright and Gary Pierre both had the hard-boiled candour of the previous performers. The speeches here were well structured, well written and reflective of the individual, but lacked a little in delivery. There was a sense of uneasiness that sidetracked marginally.
Further performances can be caught at the ex-NHS Warehouse, 3 Wickham Road on 28 and 29 April, at 2.30 and 7.30 each day. This is well worth catching. Just ignore the blurb.