There is a particular excitement about seeing a play on the fringe that has the potential to expand. Spur is already a five-star show. But it is also constrained by its hour-long duration and by the venue. This is the kind of theatre that, for me, is what the marvellous Vault Festival is all about. Spur is great, and it also has room to grow.
Matt Neubauer’s script is strong – a poetic and imaginative exploration of love and catharsis. And it’s novel. Spur is framed around the re-enactment of a Western, just the kind you’d comfortably watch on a Saturday afternoon. The film was a favourite of a deceased father, and the actress ‘starring’ in the movie breaks character to tell us about her family relationships.
There are stories, too, from her ‘co-stars’ – that I can’t think of a better word indicates how involving the connection between memories and the ‘film’ we see performed are, and how well the cast and creatives play with the link between the two. Two other cast members also play more than cowboys, they have their own tales of loss and grief as well.
As for these extra stories – note how much deception there is. Each is unsettling, there’s plenty going in the background and there’s a sense of humour to disappointments that proves alluring.
The only caveat is that the script is too compacted. While the play thrives on ambiguity, it is frustrating to see how easily it could be unpacked. The show is crying out for another scene from both George Fletcher and Benjamin Victor. I’d bet a silver dollar they’re already written.
A deal of the piece’s success is down to the actors. It’s hard to fault the performances from Fletcher, Victor or Maddy Strauss, who plays the lead protagonist Sadie. Strauss gives my favourite performance of the festival so far, investing the show with great emotional power. And she really could star in a Western!
Bringing the piece close to a tearjerker, the projected film that Sadie watches/performs is interspersed with a home movie. Alberto Lais’ video work is touching, the traverse staging is handled well by director James Nash and the lighting design by Ben Kulvichit is superb. But the technical difficulties of working in a tunnel (oh, those trains) are painfully easy to appreciate. All aspects of the production could be improved with ease.
It’s tricky to write about what a play could be rather than what is on stage – and any observation doesn’t detract from what has been achieved here. But it would be good to see Spur again with a little more polish in a better space. It could have a bright future.
Until 9 March 2023