Trial of Love
Bread and Roses Theatre
Reviewed – 11th September 2019
“As a concept, it’s alluring in its originality”
Though it has a love triangle storyline in common, this is not Mary Shelley’s Trial of Love, but an ambitious fusion of genres and styles all its own, vaulting across time and space between Chinese opera and Western horror, physical theatre and black comedy.
It starts with a nicely turned sitcom premise. A wealthy Chinese bachelor studying in London, Archie (Sam Goh), calls in Annie (Rhyanna Alexander-Davis), a specialist in exorcising oriental spirits, via a very plausible app called Ghostbusters. After the initial confusion caused by Annie’s black South Londoner identity, Annie discovers that Archie’s girlfriend, Hannah (Seisha Butler), is possessed by the spirit of Ann (Ning Lu), the lover Archie left behind in China. In a sudden change of mood, Ann now takes over the stage to sing her sad story, in flowing costume and with precise dance steps in the Chinese opera tradition. Then the genre moves on to ‘scary movie’, as Ann’s ghost variously inhabits, fights and controls the other characters.
As a concept, it’s alluring in its originality. Despite modern setting and dialogue the performance retains the formal quality it inherits from its roots, with percussion marking the beats, stylised poses and exaggerated facial expressions to portray the emotional narrative. There is a suspicion that the production is forged into its unusual shape to suit the personnel available, yet as an apparently random collision of ideas it wards off the ever-present danger of baffling the audience. Ning Lu’s classical training is apparent as Ann, but Director Sally Jiayun Xu must take much credit for blending the ensemble so fluidly, as well as for the production’s (otherwise uncredited) art direction, careful use of colours and costume.
The script is a kind of love triangle itself, between the Director’s modernisation of an ancient tale and its westernisation by Dwain Brown but, however it was devised, its tight dialogue and meticulous execution allow it to slalom through funny, then beautiful, magical then scary without much difficulty, very much helped by slick lighting changes (Melanie Percy) and sound (Andrea Lungay). The mesmerising spectacle ends with a neat coda as tea is ritually taken by the remaining characters.
Though elegantly done, there are a few holes and oddities, perhaps lost in translation. Archie is supposed to be wealthy, yet later appears to be financially supported by his hardworking, abandoned first lover, who is also busy haunting his girlfriend. The theme of stereotyping and interrelating cultures that is set up so intriguingly at the start is undermined by being left unexplored. The unhelpful naming of the characters appears to be an unmotivated whim. However, the outcome is fresh, witty, visually enchanting and not without depth, while the universal themes of love, greed and betrayal keep it one piece.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Trial of Love
Bread and Roses Theatre until 14th September
Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Water Rats
Reviewed – 30th July 2018
“a complex play that conjures up twists until the final moment”
Before a small theatre pub and music venue called The Water Rats came into being, there existed in its place a pub called The Pindar of Wakefield. In its time, it was visited by such luminaries as Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Bob Dylan. Unfortunately none of them were available on Monday to discuss love, life, and relationships – luckily, playwright Olugbeminiyi Bammodu was around to do it instead.
Bammodu’s play, which he wrote and directed, dissects the relationship between Melissa and Daniel, a couple who met at university. Their idealistic student days are long gone; their affection for one another has taken its leave, too. Melissa, now a successful lawyer, resents having to financially support her artist boyfriend: the romantic notion of him ‘waiting for inspiration’ has long gone sour. Daniel perceives this as a lack of support, diminishing his confidence even further. The various misunderstandings between the two create tension that is only exacerbated by the arrival of Daniel’s brother Jacob, who is intent on reawakening the family drama that Daniel has tried to forget.
Anyone expecting a simple domestic drama should reject this notion instantly. Clingfilm is a complex play that conjures up twists until the final moment. This is to both its credit and its detriment. On one hand, it keeps the audience invested in its characters, all of whom are given depth and intriguing histories. Conversely, it makes for a play that is a little overlong and, in places, melodramatic. Attempts to maintain the high stakes sometimes miss the mark and the revelations sometimes come too suddenly to be believable. Ultimately, Melissa and Daniel’s relationship comes second to the various tangents that are set up and rarely resolved. The set goes some way to compensate for this. A photo of the couple stands downstage centre: physically, at least, their relationship is always at the forefront. But this isn’t quite enough to avoid it being weighed down by extraneous melodrama.
Fortunately, a strong cast is on hand to bring the script to life and sustain some of its more ridiculous moments. Anna Thornley and Matt Rolls give the play a strong foundation as Melissa and Daniel, capturing the varied nature of their relationship with great sensitivity. Olivia Caw and Elliot O’Donnell provide excellent support as Melissa’s best friend Rachel and Daniel’s brother Jacob. Both, especially Caw, give scenes balance and bring warmth and plausibility that is sometimes missing from the dialogue. All have a flair for comedy and draw out the humorous elements in a way that does not feel forced or unnatural. Thornley is particularly good at this: her correction of Daniel’s grammar is a running joke that brings some welcome laughter during tense moments.
‘I should have chose her!’ – ‘Chosen, Daniel.’
Clingfilm promises an intimate look at a relationship from the inside. But as it progresses the play becomes overwhelmed by other elements which, though effective, relegate the audience to mere spectators of the chaos rather than accomplices in the drama.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Photography by Michael Lynch
The Water Rats until 1st August
part of The Camden Fringe Festival 2018