Wendy Kweh

Crave

04/11/20

Chichester Festival Theatre (Live Streaming)

The title feels apt, because we have been craving live theatre. And this production of Sarah Kane’s bleakly poetic play, directed by Tinuke Craig, is the closest we can get. It’s actually playing as we speak, not recorded live and then shown again. It’s real! And somehow, with the lights turned low, some of that theatrical magic makes it through our computer monitor and we’re transfixed.

Our sense of immersion owes a lot to Alex Lowde’s set design. It’s stark and minimalistic: just four conveyer belts driving the characters onwards, enlarged footage of their faces projected onto the screen behind. The stage revolves too, adding to the sense that none of these characters has any control over what happens to them. They’re stuck on their individual treadmills, too consumed by the inexorable motion to look around or make any real connections.

Kane’s play famously has no stage directions; nor are there any character names or notes; nor does the text make clear who is speaking to whom at any point. Here, they mostly speak into the void, four disparate figures, each desperate to be heard. When they do make contact with one another, it’s fleeting, and ultimately unhelpful. At first, it’s confusing: a cacophony of sound and imagery. But, in the end, it’s like an incomplete jigsaw. Yes, there are gaps; no, we don’t have all the pieces and there are no easy answers. But a compelling picture has emerged, and we are utterly engaged.

Erin Docherty (C) and Jonathan Slinger (A) have the showiest of the parts: as an abused child and a self-pitying paedophile. They’re both terrific. Wendy Kweh (M) and Alfred Enoch (B) are great too, but their roles are more understated and so less memorable.

In the end, it just feels wonderful to experience challenging theatre again. As lockdowns – either full or partial – look set to continue for some time yet, I hope we can at least look forward to more of this.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

Big Aftermath of a Small Disclosure

14/08/18

Summerhall, Edinburgh

What I love most about the Fringe is the sheer variety of what’s on offer. Two weeks into a rigorous viewing timetable, patterns start to emerge (for example, table lamps and portable cassette recorders are popular props this year); I start to think maybe I’ve seen it all. And then I find myself in Summerhall, watching ATC’s Big Aftermath of a Small Disclosure and am reassured that theatre still offers endless possibilities, that I can still be surprised.

We start with a bare stage and two characters, Jon (Abhin Galeya) and Louise (Wendy Kweh). They cross, meet in the middle, and Jon tells Louise he is thinking of leaving town. Their dialogue comes in short, staccato bursts, spare and unrevealing. It’s an intriguing opening, the bare bones of an idea. When Johan (Sam Callis) and Sjon (Mark Weinman) join them, the stylised he-said-she-said repetition is both funny and strangely alienating – but slowly, slyly, the power dynamics are revealed, and we see the characters pacing, circling, approaching and retreating, vying for control and understanding of the crisis created by Jon’s simple announcement.

This is choreography as much as direction: the moves become more complex as the drama is fleshed out, and it’s beautifully crafted by Alice Malin. Layer by layer, we learn about the group: who they are, what they mean to each other, what Jon’s leaving really signifies. The set grows with each round of revelations too: now we have grass, now chairs, now beer bottles and other props. The whole piece is an illumination of the storytelling process, how we start knowing nothing and are fed details piecemeal.

Magne van den Berg’s script, translated by Purni Morell, is oddly ethereal; the characters’ speech patterns are slightly jarring – it has a disorienting effect. I like it: it’s the opposite of naturalism; nobody speaks like this, with such precision and control. And yet, even in its strangeness, it’s all very recognisable: the unuttered agendas, the circling around real issues.

A thought-provoking, unusual piece – and one I highly recommend.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield