“J B Pichelski’s script does have interesting concepts buried somewhere”
The Camden Fringe can often be a hotbed for exciting, thoughtful, creative new work that screams out for a larger platform or further development. Scenic Reality unfortunately does not fit into this category. Despite some interesting ideas fuelling the play, the execution results in a hugely disappointing experience.
Scenic Reality centres around four friends reuniting under unfortunate circumstances – Janet (Amy Woods), Lucy (Francesca Mallett), and George (Brodie Husband) all convene at Damien’s (Patricia Gibbons) flat, in response to a letter Damien had sent. There’s a tension amongst the four as it transpires that they haven’t seen each other since before they all went separate ways after college, and that a film that Damien made when they were last together caused a severe falling out. The events surrounding this are revealed through a plethora of flashbacks that intersperse this reunion – and when I say plethora, I mean it. There are approximately ten jumps back in time throughout the play, which means twenty scene changes as it travels back to present day. That’s three minutes between each scene change on average, which is blisteringly quick for any piece of theatre, and subsequently creates a stilted, juddering pace with no momentum. No scene is given any time to breathe or develop organically, instead vaguely alluding to something that’s happened or going to happen and then jumping in time again before allowing any conflict or theme to really be explored.
That’s a shame, because J B Pichelski’s script does have interesting concepts buried somewhere – the role of art in a continually gruelling and dissatisfying system, adapting to disappointment and post-university life, and the way artists are expected to exploit their trauma for the sake of their craft are ideas that all briefly pop up, but the breakneck rush through time instead means that none of these are allowed to establish themselves as themes, instead just making a fleeting appearance and then being absent for the rest of the play. The hollowness of the script is exacerbated further by dialogue that operates only on the surface level, which facilitates flat and low-stakes direction from Samantha Wright.
The performances, too, feel unengaged with the story. Woods is notably authentic, and Mallett and Husband provide solid enough work, but Gibbons just seems bored, as every line she delivers feels disinterested and follows the exact same inflection. This greatly dampens the energy of the piece, resulting in a protagonist that the audience simply cannot invest in.
Scenic Reality clearly has good intentions – its representation of a non-binary character, for instance, is mature and exemplary. It makes it all the more of a letdown that the rest of the play feels comparatively immature and undercooked.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by J B Pichelski
Hen and Chickens Theatre as part of Camden Fringe 2019
“here’s something so heartfelt and earnest about this piece that you can’t help but be drawn in”
Everyone knows a Spider. By which I mean the central character of Andy Rothery’s two-hander, rather than any sort of actual arachnid. Spider is the kind of middle-aged working class white man you’d expect to find at your local Wetherspoons, complaining about the ‘bloody immigrants’, and insisting that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. And indeed, that is the initial impression we are shown of Spider, until No One Likes Us starts peeling back the anxieties and insecurities hiding underneath the bravado of the bile.
Left with only a handful of months to live due to cancer, Spider (Paul Dewdney) is full of resentment and defeatism – carting around an IV drip in his unkempt house and substituting Fosters for milk in his cereal. To make matters worse for him, his new nurse Jolana (Jennifer Evans) is not a proper English nurse, but instead Eastern European. Although at first this brings out a tirade of venom and vitriol from Spider, Jolana’s care and determination allows an unlikely friendship to form between the two. This dynamic facilitates a story full of guilt, fear, and redemption, that’s told with heart and humour thanks to a bold script from Rothery (also undertaking directorial duties) that firmly punches through any discomfort with the subject matter to create an atmosphere that invites the audience in rather than repels them.
Dewdney’s performance as Spider is astonishing – the initial acidity of his prejudices is slowly deconstructed to reveal a scared little boy, displacing his frustrations at a system that allowed his family to be split apart onto anyone who isn’t English, and Dewdney captures the complexity of his journey with a confidence and gravitas that keeps the audience firmly in the palm of his hand, even through some of the play’s more far-fetched and convenient plot points that occur in its second half. Dewdney coaxes out both laughter and tears at all the right moments, leaving nary a dry eye by the play’s climax.
Evans, too, does a sterling job, but is given considerably less material to work with, instead being relegated to just listening to Spider and feeling sorry for him for the majority of the play. The extent to which Jolana is under-written is only made more noticeable by how well-developed Spider is, and leaves you yearning for more balance in the piece. Her only plot thread – her need to get a good recommendation from Spider for her boss to help with achieving her nursing qualification – is dropped without mention about twenty minutes in, leaving her only to exist as a vehicle for Spider’s redemption.
There’s an argument to be made that No One Likes Us shouldn’t be sympathising with and excusing the attitudes of racists, and it certainly shouldn’t be the responsibility of those being persecuted to help said racists see the error of their ways. And yet, there’s something so heartfelt and earnest about this piece that you can’t help but be drawn in to its (slightly misguided) hopes of a kinder and more compassionate society.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
No One Likes Us
Hen and Chickens Theatre until 3rd August as part of Camden Fringe 2019