If the idea of seeing a dystopian drama, where the Government limits the number of words we use per day, gets the short answer from you, then you’ve made a good call on this occasion. But dismissing Sam Steiner’s drama as silly, or contrarian to the point of being crass, is too easy. The play is ambitious and adventurous, as its awards and success on the fringe indicate. And this production from First Floor Presents demands that we take it seriously, earning respect as a result. Unfortunately, the play’s targets – while one of the few clear things about this confusing piece – are missed by a long way.
Let’s leave aside any practicalities about the “hush law” imposed on the populace. Steiner isn’t interested in how or why and that’s his prerogative, even if it frustrates an audience. But the lack of detail makes it hard to examine one major theme of the play – that of protest. Surely the facts of what’s happened and what people do next are needed? We get a march or two and that’s all. Simultaneously, we are presented with the history of a relationship, which we see grow and put under pressure through a lack of communication. The problem is that the couple in question have troubles without a cap on words. It’s too hard to see them together from the get go. And here there’s too much happening – an affair, a slim back story, their sex and work lives, and a pet cemetery, for some reason – all raced through breathlessly. It’s tough to warm to them and, although the scenario is nightmarish enough, it is difficult to care.
It’s all something of a pity, as the two performers here do a good job. Charlie Suff makes for an amenable presence who ably delivers the humour of the piece. Jemima Murphy has a harder job as his neurotic girlfriend, but brings a compelling intensity to the role. The couple as written are pretty tiresome and don’t seem too bright, but it’s clear Murphy and Suff have worked phenomenally hard and their focus is impressive. Well done to both of them.
Director Hamish Clayton has made a similarly close study of the play. He brings variety to the pace of the scenes and exacts a sense of paranoid tension. But, like Steiner, he seems enamoured of the play’s oddities – “tricks” devised to use words wisely (and no, learning sign language isn’t one of them) that are left unexplained for too long, or interminably going back and forth in time. The tiny scenes and repetition, presumably designed to create tension, make this short play seem very long. That the characters reduce their speech and contract their sentences with such pain, and at such cost to comprehension, is clever but becomes excruciatingly laboured. Go see? Um, no.
Until 27 May 2019
Photo by Maximilian Clarke