first night

Fourth Wall: Double Bill

Ellie Gauge Fourth Wall's double bill of 'Winter of Our Discotheque' and 'Death and the Maiden'


Fourth Wall have made a bold choice to showcase two fairly unknown productions in their exciting new Double Bill. Tess Humphreys Winter of our Discotheque and Ariel Dorfmans Death of a Maiden are by no means easy productions to put on; heavy and controversial in content the company faced a huge task.


I am not entirely sure why the two pieces were placed together in a double bill format. Perhaps I missed something crucial but there seemed to be very little that tied them together, the links were tenuous if at all. The choice to place them side by side in one evenings entertainment therefore seemed a little arbitrary. The difficulty of this review is that I find myself directly comparing the productions, and I am not sure that that is fair to either. I will attempt to praise and critique where due to the individual productions, but since it seems to have been a largely collaborative event I have decided to interweave my reflections.


The use of Empty Shop as a performance venue is one that has been employed with increasing popularity over the last year. It seems to be the trendy thing to do, and yet it often hinders the production. I would argue that perhaps it is sometimes simply more trouble than it is worth.


Winter of our Discotheque certainly encountered problems as a result of the choice of venue and their chosen use of the space. It is a shame that such a mouldable venue was not utilised to its full potential. Unfortunately we were not transported to a dormitory of an elite public school, but rather were found in a rather shabby room where none of the furniture or aesthetics seemed to fit practically or creatively. Furthermore the stage space seemed unnecessarily cramped and the actors were faced with the difficult task of negotiating this.


There were further problems encountered in the scene changes, which were annoyingly clunky, accentuated by the chosen orientation of the space and the necessity of constant entrances and exits. For me, this was a fundamental limitation of the production, which was particularly present given the episodic nature of the script. I think the scene changes could have been more carefully choreographed with scope for creative twists, which may have actually enhanced the piece. A couple of times music or sound effects were used but with little consistency or reasoning. I was hoping for some discotheque beats as the title perhaps suggested.


The flipped use of the space for Death of a Maiden proved much better in these respects. As well as a variety of levels ,which were employed cunningly, the space was more open, giving the actors more freedom which served them well. Entrances were slick and intentional which made for a fluid production.


The intimate space of Empty Shop means that attention to detail is key to ensure believability, but this at times fell short. The red tip of the stage gun is a pet peeve of mine, but is hugely detrimental to the shock factor that is surely intended to be invoked. The intimacy also requires subtle performances from the actors who have absolutely nowhere to hide. This was made all the more challenging by the fact that every actor was faced with an undeniably difficult task of grappling with complicated characters and a multitude of arduous issues.


Some were more successful than others at portraying the intricate details of the characters with the right level of sensitivity. Death of a Maiden was a little more triumphant in this respect and Leying Lee should be applauded for moulding such beautifully refined performances from her actors. I was entirely captured by the story as a result. However, Winter of our Discotheque arguably had a substantially more challenging task facing a mammoth concoction of controversial issues which neither production team, cast nor audience could fully get to grips with in sufficient depth.


For me, Georgina Armfield gave the most compelling performance of the evening as Paulina in Death of a Maiden. She without a doubt shone as the most accomplished performer and gave a phenomenal portrayal of an extraordinarily complex character. Her mannerisms, physicality and expressions were carefully nuanced and her performance was flooded with numerous moments of real maturity. Similarly Izzie Price should be commended for her performance as Mama in Winter of our Discotheque. Again the part was hugely demanding and as always Price excelled. She demonstrated a real commitment to the character especially in the emotionally draining aspects, but this was beautifully teamed with some refreshing comedic moments. It was wonderful to see two pieces of theatre, which centred on interesting female roles, and to see two tremendous actresses tackle them triumphantly.


I cant say I loved either production, but I think the majority of that comes from a personal preference rather than a comment on their merits. It was all a little overwhelming for a casual summers evening, and after the onslaught of issues thrown at us in Winter of our Discotheque, the following horrors of Death of a Maiden were tough to digest. That said, I am genuinely pleased that these productions have been produced in Durham, and for the opportunity to see them. Director Alex Prescot rightly notes that what is exciting about student theatre is the opportunity to take risks and I love that this double bill grapples with two incredibly demanding productions which come with a surplus of challenges and risks. For their bravery alone both production teams and casts should be commended.

9 June 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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