“Unfortunately the production falls short of its potential”
They call him ‘The Bear’. In the world of finance he is unafraid to take risks, a giant on the 65th floor where the higher the elevator takes you is a clear indicator of status, “the black boy from Tottenham who took on the city”, Bear says of himself. But when he is let go by the firm because “my face doesn’t fit” his life spirals desperately back down, and soon he is transferring the rules of the finance world to the streets of London. An acute commentary on racism within the world of finance, as well as a scathing observation of a world and a people obsessed by money, this should’ve been a topical and moving story. Unfortunately the production falls short of its potential.
Mark Norfolk’s writing moves between conversation-based realism and spoken word, but the poetry is not brought out in the characters’ delivery. The rhythm and pace required of this style of writing is lacking, and moments of humour in the script are often lost in performance. Moments of uncertainty jar the performance – hesitations as lines are nearly forgotten that affect the production’s flow for example, but this is likely to be ironed out as the run continues.
The set (Alfie Heywood) is basic but functioning, but the lighting (Chuma Emembolu) is bizarrely literal at points and a more subtle design would’ve better complimented the space. The projections on the back wall could have been used more as they work really well, but needed to be more regularly integrated into the production as a whole to create a more coherent piece. At the same time, the projections are sometimes at odds with what the actors are saying and details such as unrealistic typing mean a certain slickness is lacking from the production.
To its credit, this production is an exemplar of gender blind casting. Bear is played by Jaye Ella-Ruth who is consistently convincing, portraying cut-throat trader alongside adoring husband and father, propelled forwards by an impressive tenacity and self-belief. Greater investigation into the emotional depth of the Bear’s character would aid this portrayal. I think this comes back to a question of pace. Where the spoken word moments require a greater rhythm and drive forwards, Bear’s emotional moments require more space around them, a moment to breathe. Bear carries the play, joined by actors rotating parts – a predominantly competent and supportive cast.
This is a script filled with potential and a production that is trying to do some really interesting, but it falls unfortunately short of where it is aiming to reach.
“a prescient rather than topical piece of writing, nevertheless this undernourished production seems to miss an opportunity”
Something smells fresh at The Bread and Roses theatre, with a new artistic director, new writing talent and emerging actors all involved in The Buzz, one of three winning plays from the theatre’s 2016/17 competition for new works. Lydia Rynne’s dark comedy addresses the dubious ethics of celebrity through the persona of Kyla (Sassy Clyde), a once well-known TV star now reduced to being ‘a famous elbow’ intruding into the cropped photos of her popstar partner, Josh (Andrew Umerah), on the red carpet.
The show starts promisingly. Still buzzing after Josh’s triumphant night at the awards, the celebrity couple return to their shared penthouse to enjoy the event’s coverage on TV and social media. As Josh retires and Kyla drinks alone, her dropout brother Nate (Gabriel Cagan) visits, seemingly to tease her about her obsession with fame and berate her neglect of her family. Implausibly, he then sends her out for more alcohol, whereupon his partner-in-protest Cordelia (who humorously prefers the name ‘Anon’) joins him to drug and truss up the rock star, hoping to extract a confession of tax evasion. Matters deteriorate into black farce as Kyla returns and Cordelia blurts out another, more disturbing narrative.
As a promising new writer, Lydia Rynne and the actors could have hoped for firmer direction. Characterisations wander and the reliability of testimonies dissipates in a morass of unclear motivations. Andrew Umerah portrays the entitlement of success well, but finds it harder to keep up when the character becomes more ambiguous. Similarly, Sassy Clyde plays the wise-cracking lass from Chorley with no problems, but her character is supposed to have known fame and is still addicted to the idea of stardom. To be plausible, more steel and composure is needed, whereas Hannah Duffy’s conflicted Cordelia breezes in, emotionally committed in performance as if from another genre. Gabriel Cagan is solid as Nate, playing the anti-establishment squatter with all the naivety and angst the stereotype demands.
As incoming artistic director, Velenzia Spearpoint’s direction of her own first production may be an overreach. The unimaginative set (Sally Hardcastle) with its cardboard gold records feels more suited to Nate’s squatter community than to a global superstar, though it’s greatly helped by Chuma Emembolu on the sound desk, managing the output of the invisible big screen TV like a Dad with the remote control.
The nature of the line-up makes this a take on celebrity derived from the media rather experience, all white rugs and pink drinks. However, in the final moments the play hits a live cable, evoking recent celebrity rape scandals, the abuse of power and stifling of the female voice. Given the competition predates the scandals, The Buzz is a prescient rather than topical piece of writing, nevertheless this undernourished production seems to miss an opportunity.