Arcola Theatre, London E8
Opened 6 September
, 2010

There is no inherent reason for much theatre to be staged more or less end-on to the audience, but by the same token there is often not quite enough justification to depart from this arrangement. In some ways, form follows function in Clare Lizzimore’s production of David Watson’s play. Watson has written a fragmentary series of scenes (hence the title) portraying individuals whose lives are touched by a fictitious London suicide bombing, so it’s a neat idea to present the action on all four sides of the Arcola’s flexible main space with the audience sitting on cushions in the middle, swivelling to take in each new piece as we build up the mosaic. However, since only one side of Es Devlin’s set(s) can serve as more than a single location (being an all-purpose “outdoors” area), as many scenes are played on this side as on the other three put together.
Similarly, Daniel Lang’s four-sided film projections are remarkable pieces of work (the opening scene, played entirely on video, shows us the views forward, behind and to either side of a car driving through the Mourne Mountains), but in order to provide screens for them the playing areas must all be kept behind gauzes. Nothing innately wrong with this either, except that gauzes also become more opaque the more oblique the angle at which one views them. Here, spectators much removed from the very centre of the room will all at some point have their vision of the live action compromised, and on a number of occasions it was all I could do to discern through the screen where a particular figure was, let alone make out any facial or bodily expression.
Watson’s writing is elliptical without being obscure. Even in the scenes set before the defining event (they are not played in chronological order, and of course the bombing itself is never shown), the relationships we see between pairs of characters seem to show a series of aftermaths. All of them refer back to past situations or developments, as if we are peering around the edges of their lives. Robin Soans, Dearbhla Molloy and Sian Clifford lead a nine-strong cast through 90 minutes of a well-intentioned staging experiment which fails only slightly more often than it succeeds.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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