Camden People’s Theatre
Reviewed – 24th October 2019
“has an interesting premise, but ultimately, it is a bit hit-and-miss”
The notion being ‘triggered’ is certainly a hot topic of cultural and artistic debate. ‘Trigger Warning’ tackles this head on, as audience members are guided through a minefield of possible triggers for their upcoming performance of ‘Hope’. The play is a mix of elements reminiscent of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ and David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth’, combined together in what certainly is a statement piece.
Audiences are directly addressed from the very beginning by a duo of energetic and some-what frazzled flight attendants, played by Kath Duggan and Daniel Hay-Gordon. The play itself is structured in two halves; the first consists of audiences being prepped for the story ahead called ‘Hope’ which may or may not ever take place. Warnings include that it may make us feel a certain way, including boredom and frustration. The directorial decisions by Natasha Nixon are very strong, as the performers use clowning and voice-overs to tremendous comedic effect. Duggan and Hay-Gordon’s knowing glances, elastic facial expressions and needless faffing about with failing props make for a series of guaranteed laughs. The beginning sequence is inexplicably hilarious: however, this is unfortunately short-lived.
The second section, in which the play ‘Hope’ takes place, is incredibly confusing and loses the momentum that had been set by the strong opening. Audiences are then told of the story of ‘Hope’, a young migrant who was crossing the border. The narrative is unclear as we are told to read a ‘synopsis’ that we had not been given. This is clearly ironic, but it is then followed by Duggan and Hay-Gordon staring at the audience for five minutes whilst elevator music plays. Nixon’s direction in the second half loses the sense of pace and energy created in the first twenty minutes of action. It does, however, fulfil the trigger warning given of creating feelings of boredom and frustration.
The play’s design (Lily Arnold) is striking yet satisfying. Bold pastel colours frame the stage and costumes. Sound (Owen Crouch) and lighting effects (Amy Daniels) feature very heavily throughout. In particular, we never hear Hay-Gordon’s character speak, he lip-syncs all his lines. The most exciting design element is on the audience’s entry to the space, as we see Duggan struggling to pull a huge pink carpet through what appeared to be a side window. It is a spectacle made by the illusion that the window was going directly into the street. Concepts of the space itself are reversed, as we entered through the fire exit outside the theatre and exited through the entrance. It is details like these that summarises the play’s irreverent playfulness.
This play has an interesting premise, but ultimately, it is a bit hit-and-miss. This dark comedy teeters around the edges of offence and acceptability. However, it is done so in a way that is so conceptual that it often leaves the viewer completely perplexed.
Reviewed by Emily Morris
Photography by Harry Elletson
Camden People’s Theatre until 9th November
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The End of History
St Giles-in-the-Fields Church
Reviewed – 8th June 2018
“predominantly the writing is beautiful, lyrical and deeply human”
Paul smashes things, the city, the weekend, avocados. He works in marketing for a property development firm. London is a choice Paul made – he chose to move here and so he believes he has a greater claim to it than those who were simply born here. There are strangers in him though, Matt, Mark and Mike, the names he alternates between for Grindr hookups, and on certain mornings coffee menus look like hieroglyphics. Wendy has lived in London all her life. She is an art therapist working with alcoholics and homeless people. She carries a suitcase and a Sports Direct bag filled with possessions belonging to her ex-boyfriend. She might be going to Seville, maybe. They meet in St Giles Church, where the site-specific production is also performed. She is here for peace and quiet, he won’t stop checking his phone. She recognises him from when he knocked her bag over on the tube escalator this morning. He seems barely conscious of her existence.
As we learn about the two very different lives that have lead this pair to the same place, a narrative of disconnection becomes, at last, a story about connections made between people in the most unexpected of places. Two personal stories are contextualised by vital discussions about gentrification, homelessness and class. The characters are well-crafted, clearly defined, and delivered by equally strong performances from Sarah Malin as Wendy and Chris Polick as Paul. Polick’s performance is layered and moving, whilst Malin brings a playfulness to the script. This is a well balanced duo.
The majority of the piece is delivered in an unusual third person, with each actor doubling as the characters in the other’s life – distinctly different characters but never overdone. These moments of doubling, coupled with the moments of direct interaction, are some of the strongest of the show, and a little more focus on developing or extending these points could create a more balanced whole. The third person style takes a little longer to really engage with making for a slow start, and at points, the writing tries to do too much, it spills over with words. The epithet, “show, don’t tell” is applicable here. But predominantly the writing (by Marcelo Dos Santos) is beautiful, lyrical and deeply human, and the third person style seems to work more and more effectively as the production progresses. The gradual release of information, the witty grasp of language and the deeply moving trajectory are a credit to the quality of both the production’s writing and execution. Director Gemma Kerr has the actors utilising the whole space, delivering lines from different pews, from the pulpit even, which works really well.
The moments of music, composed by Edward Lewis are Sondheim-esque, talk/sung at points. The music is undoubtedly beautiful but these are not my favourite moments of the play – in fact the points where the actors speak over music chime more with me – but they do work and seem particularly appropriate in the church setting. Unfortunately Malin’s vocal capability is not quite up to some of the higher melodies, and these moments do take us out of the world of the play.
Some development is required for this piece to reach its full potential, but ‘The End of History’ is still a moving and powerful story, tender and personal, thought provoking in its social context.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography by Mike Massaro
The End of History
St Giles-in-the-Fields Church until 23rd June