Reviewed – 5th December 2018
“its imaginative concept is held back by underwhelming acting and superfluous layers of choreography, staging and lighting”
In a maximum-security prison, deep underground, Moira and Bheur assess a serial killer. During a set period of five days of questions and conversations, Heath Dane gradually turns the tables and forces them to examine themselves, with revealing consequences. Writer, Luke Culloty, adds a twist to this Hannibalesque story but its imaginative concept is held back by underwhelming acting and superfluous layers of choreography, staging and lighting. Instead of focusing on setting an atmospheric scene of apprehension to start with (Heath isolated in his subterranean cell, for example) we enter the theatre to the sound of birdsong and an unnecessary characterisation tableau.
It is therefore up to the cast to initiate the suspense. Molly Jones’ portrayal of Heath has a disturbing side but we miss the contrasting dimensions of a psychopath and she behaves more like a sassy playground bully. As Moira, the passive, detached evaluator, Stella Richt lacks backbone and, often inaudible, immediately comes across as the vulnerable victim. Pikson, played by Fred Woodley Evans, seems in a continuous state of nerves, presumably due to Heath’s jeering at him but nevertheless surprising for a hardened security guard. Then things begin to get confusing when Bheur (Kirsty Terry) and Evangelina Burton as Officer Oml appear, attempting to take control of the proceedings. Even Culloty himself joins them as participating director/stage manager. What should be a build-up of tension culminating in an inevitable climax feels like a sudden precipitous outburst of passion.
The lighting produces some supporting special effects but could help intensify a feeling of claustrophobic unease and also take care not to leave people speaking in the dark (though perhaps this is intentional?). A few varied fragments of music set out to illustrate Heath’s ‘genius’ mind but the abstract movement sequences do more to detract from our engagement with the action than connect the scenes and the characters lose their identity.
Understandably, new-born theatre companies are giving young talent the opportunity to perform and grow. ‘Jailbirds’ has all the potential to be a powerful piece of theatre, full of suspense and inscrutability, but it would be interesting to use experienced actors and focus on the interpretation, pacing and dynamics of the script. Less can be more.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography courtesy Luke Culloty
Etcetera Theatre until 8th December
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