first night

4000 Miles

Alex Prescot takes a trip to an unusual performance space with First Theatre Company's latest show.

 Finding a play in St. Mary’s College Chapel is no mean feat, but the blurb of ‘4000 Miles’ is sufficiently appealing to entice audience members: we were promised ‘a touching, often humourous, appreciation of life’s smaller moments’. Unfortunately, on this night at least, this focus on the nuances of daily life slipped too often into monotony.

‘4000 Miles’ is a tricky piece. It’s a play of subtleties; the disagreements between ageing Vera and hedonistic Leo bubble under the surface of the dialogue and require a delicate hand from both actors and director to tease out meaning. This subtlety was unfortunately not found in this production. The variety of accents jarred considerably with the evident American references, both in location and with vocabulary such as ‘cell phones’, creating an uncertain space which was unsettling for the audience. Similarly, in such a dialogue-driven play, the drama must be driven forward by the relationships between the four actors, relationships which were not sufficiently developed to support the complex narrative.

This is not to say that there were not some touching moments in this production, nor that some performers did not stand out. Stine Revheim Svellingen as Vera gave a committed and subtle performance (though her ageing makeup was a little too much), even if she did occasionally tip over into caricature. Jack Usher’s Leo had a beautiful moment as he described a traumatic incident in the half light of the stage, and all were transfixed by his voice and the power of the story. But unfortunately this was undermined by the rest of his performance, which seemed to lack thought; often too exaggerated for the intimate space and offering stock, broad brush-stroke emotions as opposed to the delicate, considered feelings which the character demands. Elle Morgan-Williams and Coco Collard, playing Bec and Amanda respectively, did momentarily lift the energy, but these provided mere glimpses of what the piece could have been.

I think much of the problem I had with this production was unfortunately down to the direction. Though it’s important to keep the play understated, and Ben Forster having the characters sitting for the majority of the play did succeed in places, this became a default position for the actors, and thus felt regrettably static, and at times even bizarre. For example, when Morgan-Williams and Usher were having a heated argument, they remained sitting down on a sofa, with their vocal sparring hampered by the positions to which they had to adhere. Other small details, such as Usher flicking aimlessly through a Yellow Pages for a good few minutes, equally demanded more thought to form part of a cohesive narrative.

All in all, there were some genuinely engaging moments in ‘4000 miles’. However, these were too few and far between; if you are going to tackle a subtle 4-hander, as it takes great guts to do, then character development and relationships have to come first, and in this production these were the elements that really required more thought.

19 February 2016

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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