first night

Between Ambition and Anxiety

Mubasil Chaudhry grapples with some new student writing with Hild Bede Theatre's latest show.

 This original play written and directed by Sebastian Ng offered an interesting premise in its exploration of a highly chaotic film set, delving into the trials and tribulations faced by the film’s director, producer, and central actors. However, the final execution failed to match the play’s ambition as it soon became apparent that the production was littered with various messages that proved incapable of forming a coherent whole.

The first act of the play appeared to be logically structured, focusing around the complications faced by the protagonist of the film, played by Harry Hardman (Edgar), and the director, Ram Gupta (Connor). However, the acting could have benefited from greater practice as Gupta often mumbled and stuttered his words causing the rhythm of some key dialogue to break, whilst his emotional outbursts failed to be truly convincing; and ultimately the audience could not really engage with the character’s frustration and anguish. Similarly, Hardman's acting in the opening act proved to be peculiar as he relied often on physical gestures to articulate the sentiment of certain lines, failing to convince the audience of his emotional state through his line delivery. However, this can be seen to be the script’s fault, providing the actors with few moments of careful articulation of emotion; often, the play appeared strongest when making crude, whimsical jokes compared to the scenes requiring more emotional depth such as the moment between Edgar and his father.

Additionally, the stage felt over-crowded far too often and the physical acting and discussions of the film crew sometimes appeared to be too distracting, diverting attention away from the interactions between the central characters. The play certainly appeared to be its most logical during the first act where the production had a clear story to tell. However, after the intermission, the audience was laboured with uncomfortable sermons on capitalism and the nature of art, and the dialogue appeared to be far from natural, reducing the play to an almost uncomfortable experience, especially during moments such as Clem’s (Josie Williams) announcement at the breaking of the fourth wall. And within these strange statements and events in the second act lies the central issue of the production. The play itself does not seem to  know its main message or what it is trying to achieve, and this ambiguity proved to be the play’s ultimate downfall.

However, despite working with a lacklustre script, there were some fine acting performances including both Olivia Ballantine-Smith. who was highly believable as an innocent, clumsy Texan interviewer, and Nicky Orrell whose brief depiction of a charismatic acting coach proved to be a highlight. But it was Alex Marshall who soon took control of the stage, commanding the audience’s attention with his witty, vibrant portrayal of Wenlock Hatfield and injecting the production with a much needed vitality in the acting.

The play ultimately proved to be a highly exhausting experiencing, leaving the audience utterly perplexed upon the end. After having initially been drawn into the troubled atmosphere of a film set, the second act devolves into repeated patronising statements on the refugee crisis, the nature of capitalism and ideas of art. It soon becomes clear, that this play is in desperate need of a refined script as well as a more coherent plot and structure.

11 June 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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