“the writing itself is strong, as are the performances, but it just misses the mark in its conclusion”
Having been met with great acclaim in the 2017 Edinburgh International Festival, Meet Me At Dawn, as directed by Murat Daltaban, comes to the Arcola for its London premiere.
Helen (Jessica Hardwick) and Robyn (Marianne Oldham) find themselves washed up on shore after their boat capsizes. They’re struggling to locate themselves, working out how to get help, how to go home. But as the adrenaline from their accident starts to wear off, they realise that their surroundings are a little off; that all is not as it seems or as it should be.
Attempting to tackle the inescapable trauma of grief, writer Zinnie Harris takes her inspiration from the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. It doesn’t quite come together in the same way, but you can see how her efforts have led to her writing Meet Me At Dawn.
Hardwick and Oldham seem to have a genuine affection for one another; there’s a sense of years of intimacy in their performances. The dialogue is quippy and honest, combining practical, familiar chat with surreal memories and poetic contemplation.
A shining black floor and background of changing block colours (designed by director Murat Daltaban, and Cen Yilmazer) add to the sense of unrealness. Abstract piano music and an echo on the dialogue (Oğuz Kaplangi) slip in and out of use, presumably to pinpoint certain poignant moments, but it’s a little random. It’s not that their use is inappropriate to the atmosphere, but rather they don’t appear to mark anything in particular, as the dialogue itself muddles abstraction with pragmatism throughout.
In her programme note, Harris talks about the idea of someone grief-stricken wishing for just a moment longer, and the application of that being a nightmare in reality. But she seems unable to resist a little over-sentimentality in her dealing with this idea. It’s a shame because the writing itself is strong, as are the performances, but it just misses the mark in its conclusion. Meet Me At Dawn poses some interesting questions, but its answers don’t quite satisfy.
“As a monologue, it feels, at times, too much like someone reading a short story aloud”
Transferring from a successful Edinburgh Fringe run in 2018, ‘Velvet’ is an engaging, raw, and realistic portrayal of a young actor falling victim to someone willing to misuse their position of power. Written and performed by Tom Ratcliffe, it’s a complex and riveting engagement with the #MeToo movement, countering the usual newspaper narratives by showing a young gay man’s perspective.
Fresh out of drama school, Tom is a young actor looking for a break. His boyfriend Matthew is supportive, but ultimately waiting for Tom’s dreams to die. Tired of unstable “money-jobs” and unsuccessful auditions, Tom gets to know a casting director on Grindr who offers the actor a big break. Whilst we are all screaming “NO DON’T DO IT”, Tom finds out the price of being given a chance to star in a huge Hollywood film, and suffers the fall-out once that price is paid.
Ratcliffe gives a likeable performance as Tom, shifting between characters with comic speed and precision. With an intensely likeable character such as this, it’s truly sad seeing him treading a familiar but ultimately doomed path. By setting the majority of the action just before the #MeToo movement started, we see how vulnerable young people in the industry can be, and we understand the power of how that movement changed the way society and characters such as Tom view themselves.
Luke W Robson’s set design is lusciously simple. Chess board floor feels like a potent visual metaphor for actions having swift and irreconcilable consequences. A pinkish-red velvet chaise-longue becomes a zone of fake intimacy. On a screen at the back, we see the Grindr and WhatsApp conversations playing out in real time, with Ratcliffe having terse conversations with a deep, mysterious voice coming from the heavens. I loved these moments of “chat”. They felt filled with tension, both sexual and dramatic. I was less convinced by Tom’s more direct address to his audience. As a writer, Ratcliffe is a real talent, and his ‘Circa’ at the Old Red Lion this year was superb. This feels like a story in need of other characters, other actors, to flesh it out and give it the dramatic finish it deserves. As a monologue, it feels, at times, too much like someone reading a short story aloud.
That said, it is a rollercoaster of a story for Tom. Director Andrew Twyman draws out a nuanced performance from Ratcliffe, but again, the final moments feel a little rushed through, despite a nicely unexpected framing device coming back in for the final scene. Recommended certainly – and hopefully not the last we see of this intriguing play.