Cavern – The Vaults
Reviewed – 14th March 2020
“well acted and directed, and O’Mahony and Stevens draw the audience in with plenty of eye contact, and easy charm”
Fireworks, by Alex Robins, about the search for the Higgs boson using the Large Hadron Collider, sounds like an intriguing proposition for a play. Robins developed the project with assistance from Plymouth Fringe, and the Plymouth Theatre Royal. His cast and crew, (director Jack Bradfield, dramaturg Jim Newton, and performers Gráinne O’Mahony and James Murphy-Stevens), helped Robins get the script in shape. And let’s not forget the guidance from Plymouth University’s Mathematical Sciences group, regarding the search for the Higgs boson, aka The God particle. Robins takes this quest and turns it into a drama to explain why theoretical physicists—and conspiracy theorists—are so hung up on Higgs and his boson.
Fireworks begins with a series of mini lectures about the standard model in theoretical physics by River, a young scientist, played very convincingly by O’Mahony. Her opposite number is Drew (Stevens), a young man obsessed with conspiracy theories such as the Mandela Effect, which suggests that the reason people remember facts, or events, differently, is that we are all in parallel universes in a “multiverse”. Running on different timelines, these universes sometimes intersect, and that is where the confusion begins. Not surprisingly, genuine scientists despair of ideas like these floating around on the world wide web. But anyway. While River spends her days explaining quarks to her ever dwindling pool of students, Drew plots to break into the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland to stop his universe disappearing when it is switched on in search of the Higgs boson.
Director Bradfield presents the action in the Cavern at VAULT Festival, with the audience seated on either side of the performance area. Set within this area, is a circular space with a ring of blinking lights. Every time an actor steps into the circular space, the lights change colour. The lights are also moving, sometimes at speed, meant to represent subatomic particles as they accelerate within the Collider. It’s a simple, but effective device. What is not so effective is the writing. Robins, for the most part, presents his drama as two monologues. It’s a good idea in theory (since his characters not only represent opposing points of view, but, from Drew’s perspective at least, different times) that doesn’t work that well in practice. There’s just too much exposition needed to clue the audience in. The connection between Drew and River doesn’t emerge in any concrete fashion until the end, and hence feels tacked on. Even the explosive ending—which I won’t describe in detail, because, spoilers—doesn’t integrate all that well into the rest of the play.
Nevertheless, Fireworks is well acted and directed, and O’Mahony and Stevens draw the audience in with plenty of eye contact, and easy charm. So watch this production without fear—you (and the rest of the audience) will exit the VAULT Festival in exactly the same universe that you entered.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
New Diorama Theatre
Reviewed – 18th October 2019
“very slick with not one word, sound effect or movement out of place”
Imagine you’re trying to steal a painting. How would you manage it? Which picture would you choose? Why are you doing it? Art Heist, the newest play from Poltergeist Theatre and written and directed by Jack Bradfield, has its three protagonists consider these very questions while also exploring notions of value, identity and capitalism.
An experienced art thief looking for one last hit (Serena Yagoub), a lost soul who finds comfort in art (Rosa Garland), and a man obsessed with achieving the notoriety of the great art thieves of the past (Will Spence) all have their eye on one particular painting and will do anything to get their hands on it. From a desk positioned outside the stage space, the quick-witted Alice Boyd narrates and provides sound effects for the trio’s every move. Game or real, it’s not entirely clear, and this is further muddled by Boyd’s appearance on stage as a guard with a penchant for the trumpet.
The performance’s opening scenes are fast-paced and highly amusing as the three thieves and the guard establish their backstories and motivations to steal the painting. Yagoub is particularly strong here and gets huge laughs from the audience for her over the top but character-appropriate delivery. A scene in the museum’s gift shop is also delightfully playful.
The set (Shankho Chaudhuri) is entirely white apart from the occasional prop and the gilded frame of the painting in question on the back wall. Three plinths – amusingly marked Poltergeist I, II and III respectively with museum-style descriptions – and the frame are enough to establish that we are in an art gallery. A white frame sits around the whole stage which the characters either walk over or around which also aids in confusing reality and fiction. The lighting (Lucy Adams) is very well done and a scene in the gallery of sculptures where the stage is plunged into darkness except for Boyd’s flashing torch is masterful.
The use of multimedia is the production’s most impressive feature. After opening gambits, Boyd switches on two screens either side of the stage which are linked to two portable cameras. One camera is initially positioned high-up on the wall like a security camera while the other captures more mundane scenes such as Garland making a sandwich. These cameras eventually move around and are used in various clever ways. Spence sits on the floor, his feet against the stage’s frame and films his feet edging along as if he is walking along a building ledge. Yagoub positions the camera at an angle to make it appear as though by wiggling across the floor on her stomach that she is in fact scaling a building. At one point, an audience member even becomes a camera man!
There is meaningful commentary to be found in Art Heist, but it is not frequent enough to really pack a punch. Spence tells the play’s most interesting anecdote about how it was the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911 that catapulted this previously relatively unknown portrait into fame. The painting’s gold frame is also used excellently at the performance’s end to drive home ideas about narrative and how much more there is so much more than what we can see. Unfortunately, moments of reflection were often quickly abandoned in favour of jokes or moving the increasingly chaotic plot forward.
Art Heist is very slick with not one word, sound effect or movement out of place. Poltergeist undoubtedly know how to put on a show, but a better balance between the serious and comedy in their newest endeavour would elevate it to a new level.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by The Other Richard
New Diorama Theatre until 26th October
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: