UCL

Souvenirs

23/08/19

Paradise in the Vault, Edinburgh

Stalking. It’s not a subject I’ve given much thought to. I mean, I know about it, of course; I’ve read stories of celebrities frightened by obsessive fans, of women killed by men who refuse to let them go. But it’s always seemed rare and niche, the kind of thing that never happens to people that you actually know.

UCL Runaround’s documentary drama, Souvenirs, disabuses me of this notion. An estimated one million people are stalked in the UK every year. Their experiences are not sensational enough to make the news; guilt and fear might mean they don’t even tell their friends.

Based on interviews and research, and supported by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Poppy Crumpton’s script focuses on four monologues, showing the various forms stalking can take. Alice (Becki Pauley) can’t seem to shake off her ex. They met at uni, so all their friends are mutual. No one really believes her when she tries to reveal what’s happening.

Oisin (Dan Barber) regrets a one-night stand he had; the guy’s infatuated with him, texting him, phoning him, the first to respond to every social media post. Oisin works in theatre; he can’t do his job without an online presence

Rex (Sam Jones)’s problem is a neighbour, an old woman hellbent on causing him grief.

Lucy (Lizzie Miesenboeck) seems sweet. She’s earnest and articulate. But the crush she has on her lecturer is ruining his life.

This is an ambitious project, but co-directors Crumpton and Joey Jepps succeed in making it work. The cross-cutting between stories is nicely handled, and the real impact of such behaviour – online as well as in person – is cleverly exposed. The ever-present paperwork – screwed up, tossed aside, straightened out, boxed up – is a neat illustration of how stalkers insinuate their ways into their victims’ lives, obliging them to collect and store evidence, forcing them into mutual obsession. It’s horrible.

All four actors present their characters with real conviction; this is an eye-opening production with a strong message. 

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

Jammy Dodgers

17/08/19

theSpace on the Mile, Edinburgh

Jammy Dodgers is a prime example of a student play: the sort of chorally spoken, minimally-propped, sentence-sharing ensemble work that you only ever really see in drama exams – or at the Fringe. This is not to denigrate it. I love this style of theatre: it requires precision and focus and a well-drilled team.

Performed by members of the UCL Drama Society, the story is simple, with an Animal Farm-style message about how humans – always, inevitably – fuck up. We’re in an all-too-imaginable dystopian near future: the world’s population has exploded and the housing crisis has escalated to monstrous proportions. But salvation may be at hand, as another planet has been colonised, and volunteers are required to people this brave new world.

Writer/director Amy Tickner offers a host of reasons individuals may choose to leave all they know behind: they’re either running to, she says, powered by idealism, or they’re running from, driven by the belief that it’s worth the risk, unlikely to be worse than the life they’re living now.

Young optimist Si (Will Bennett) fits firmly into the former camp. He’s nervous but excited, hopeful that this new society won’t replicate the same mistakes. Aleece (Zsuzsa Magyar), on the other hand, is cynical. She trusts no one, not even Si, not even after he lets her eat his smuggled jammy dodgers. She rolls her eyes at The System’s rules, but doesn’t join The People’s protests. She remains an outsider, her vision unclouded by dreams.

I like the direction of this piece, with its staccato scene changes and stylised movement. The synchronised, robotically sing-song speech of the two women representing The System (Ishaa Mane and Jade Armstrong) is chilling, and the ensemble (James Armitage, Klara Grapci-Germizaj, Suzy Palmer, Alice Popadopoulou and Kathryn Ravey) create a convincing populace for the new colony.

It’s a pessimistic piece,  for sure – but pessimism is, sadly, an apt response to our times.

4 stars

Susan Singfield