Venue 13, Lochend Close, Edinburgh
old man’s Gift (capitalisation theirs) is billed as a dark comedy. It tells the tale of four friends, using a birthday celebration to seek vengeance on the ‘old man’ who abused them in the past. It’s a student production, featuring four under-graduates from Trinity Saint David University in Carmarthen, and it’s clear that they’ve worked very hard to bring this drama to the fringe.
Sadly, however, it doesn’t really work. There are issues with all aspects of the production, from the script to the set design, from the direction to the performance style. None of it is quite convincing, and it doesn’t hang together well.
Let’s start with the set. It’s supposed to be a garden, or a patio, I think: the grounds of the old man’s house. There are chairs and a table, and – for some unfathomable reason – a fence. The fence stretches across the front of the stage, creating a barrier between the audience and the performers, which seems an odd thing to do in such a venue, where intimacy is perhaps the biggest selling point. It blocks a lot of the upstage action too, so that we cannot see the actors’ faces during several crucial scenes.
The script is problematic too. It’s not funny enough to work as a comedy, and there’s a strange intensity to the whole thing – a kind of teenage-angsty-melodrama vibe, where the emotions are cranked up to full volume throughout, with all four characters yelling, hyperventilating and flouncing off the stage at every opportunity. Despite all the histrionics, it’s a curiously empty play, and none of the heartbreak feels even remotely real. The characters’ motivations are spurious (really – why does Liz swallow the condom instead of just hiding it in her hand?) and their relationships are somehow ‘off.’
The direction is also weak. There are so many exits and entrances that it’s almost like a farce – but without the precision and humour that a farce demands. The constant traffic isn’t helped by the fact that the stage is a wooden box, and the actors all wear ‘solid’ shoes, meaning that the sound reverberates around the room. The performances look like acting, with none of the natural ease that makes a drama good.
All in all, this play just didn’t work for us. It’s an ambitious project, but one that – this time – hasn’t quite paid off.
Susan Singfield and Philip Caveney