Tag Archives: HighTide Festival

So Here We Are

(reviewed at the HighTide Festival, Aldeburgh on 12 September)

There’s a lot to look at as well as to hear in Steven Atkinson’s production of So Here We Are, a new play by Luke Norris. As it starts, we meet four young amateur footballers, mainly perched on top of dockside containers, as they begin to take in that their friend Frankie (whose funeral they have just attended) is truly dead. They drink lager and josh each other, but still find it hard to accept what has happened.

Mourning is a strange phenomenon anyway. They are eventually joined by Frankie’s partner Kirsty clutching black balloons for them to launch as a tribute and an element of closure. But can that ever be achieved, especially by the young whose first brush with mortality this is?

Then we are in flashback mode. Lily Arnold’s container set opens to display disco lights and we meet Frankie himself (Daniel Kendrick) who has grasped the trappings of football success rather too early. His exchanges with Kirsty foreshadow what we know will happen, but are punctuated by his friends’ well-meaning interventions as well as by Isobel Waller-Bridge’s ear-blistering score and sound.

Sound is something of a problem throughout, in fact; for much of the first half it’s as though we were on a seawall with a rough tide rampaging over a pebble beach. Ciáron Owens, Dorian Jerome Simpson, Mark Weinmann and Sam Melvin all convey the inarticulate nature of young male bonding, even when you have to guess at what they’re saying between the expletives.

So Here We Are runs in repertoire at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until 20 September.

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Brenda

(reviewed at the HighTide Festival, Aldeburgh on 12 September)

We are told by director Caitlin McLeod that this new play by E V Crowe, about a woman stressed to the point of mental fragility, takes place on the fault line between theatre and reality. That’s a perfectly legitimate concept, when it works. For me it definitely did not.

There’s a lot of wordless standing around for Alison O”Donnell as Brenda in the Parish Church Hall at the beginning of the play. Silence and lengthy pauses can be excellent drama when initiated by a master; here they seem merely irritating. I wanted to care what was going to happen to this sad young woman, but couldn’t manage it.

Brenda is joined by Robert (Jack Tarlton), who one presumes he’s her husband. He wants to help her, basically by forcing her to acknowledge that she is indeed a person called Brenda through the use of a microphone. Is this in fact cruelty for its own sake, an element of revenge or truly an attempt at therapy?

Designer James Turner makes a great play of a bank of electronic amplification and a snake’s nest of microphone leads, uncoiling and writhing across the floor like so many vipers. Snake venom, of course, has medicinal uses as well as lethal properties; we are left uncertain whether Brenda’s need to be outside is an escape attempt or merely a provocation to Robert.

Brenda runs in repertoire in the Aldeburgh Parish Hall until 19 September.

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Harrogate

(reviewed at the HighTide Festival, Aldeburgh on 12 September)

The second première in this year’s HighTide Festival is a two-hander for three characters by Al Smith. The audience is ranged either side of a long raised platform which designer Tom Piper has floored in pristine white, echoes by the two chairs and kitchen unit which are the only other furnishings.

Nick Sidi is Him, a father and divorced husband obsessed by girls’ virginal mid-teen status. He met his former wife when she was a schoolgirl; now his daughter is the same age. He worries about her to a point which we feel as the play progresses is beyond reason or logic.

He is concerned that her friend Carly is leading her astray, that she wears make-up and scent, that she buys shoes and a mobile phone to suit her own taste rather than his. Above all, that her mother is setting her the wrong example with her new partner Gary and above all that she now has an older boyfriend Adam.

His obsession is such that he follows her when she and Carly go away for the weekend, only of course they separate and she and Adam spend Valentine’s Day together in Harrogate, ending up in a double bed in a guest-house. When he confronts his wife (both women are played by Sarah Ridgeway) he seeks to transform her into an unhealthy mix of her own teenage self and her daughter.

It is a mark of director Richard Twyman’s skill as well as of Smith’s writing that we are never completely repelled by the male character’s dangerous obsession, a perverse Lolita complex as Him at one point admits. Nick Sidi takes us inside this ultimately sad man’s soul and lays it bare as on an operating table.

That table is where Ridgeway as the wife and mother spends her working life. As a surgeon, she knows that you cannot force time to stand still, much less run backwards. It’s a beautifully rounded performance, matched by her deceptively simple characterisation of the daughter, who is learning about life’s duplicity in a fashion as skewed as her father’s obsessions.

Harrogate runs in repertoire at the Pumphouse, Aldeburgh until 20 September.

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Lampedusa

(reviewed at the HighTide Festival, Aldeburgh on 12 September)

This new play by Anders Lustgarten is a searing indictment of two contemporary evils, one national and the other international. It is a piece for two voices, one that of Stefano, a Sicilian fisherman whose work has degenerated from catching fish to feed people to pulling the bodies of dead migrants from the Mediterranean – that sea around whose shores western civilisation first took root.

The other character is Denise, who works for a pay-day loan company collecting overdue repayments. In its way, it is equally soul-destroying, but she has an invalid mother to support (much as the DWP would like to declare her fit for work, and thus save paying disability benefits). Anyway, her employers reckon that a woman has a better chance of success in collecting money than a man.

Because the writing is strong and committed, I kept on feeling – in spite of Steven Atkinson’s production and the excellent performances by Steven Elder (Stefano) and Louise Mai Newberry (Denise) – that this would work much better on radio without the visual distractions furnished by a theatre-in-the-round production.

At the end, both characters are offered a glimpse of hope – Stefano through finding alive the wife of a distraught migrant, Denise through the kindness of a Portuguese woman client. But Lustgarten makes us aware that these are mere firefly glimmers in an increasingly dark world. We are never far from decay, even on the seashore.

Lampedusa continues in repertoire at the HighTide Dome until 19 September.

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