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18-22, Attractive, Insecure
Etcetera Theatre
23rd August 2017

★★★★★

Publicity image for 18-22, Attractive, Insecure

Photography provided by Gréan Theatre Company

Can two longtime friends competing for the same part remain friends? This is what's explored in Gréan Theatre's 18-22, Attractive, Insecure, as young actresses Carys (Bethan Leyshon) and Maire (Elaine O'Dwyer) arrive in London, and find that their new base and the opportunities it brings threaten to tear them apart.

Given the name, I was half-expecting a lighthearted comedy revolving around bitchiness and petty quarrels, however the atmosphere was heavy and emotional from the outset. The sense of two people arriving in a strange place in a state of tiredness and confusion was palpable - you could feel the oncoming homesickness as they surveyed their surroundings and made the place theirs as best they could with their few belongings. There was also a powerful sense that these two had known each other so long that they practically qualified as sisters.

The story continues to unfold with great force, with countless dynamics at play - we watch, transfixed as harmony gives way to tension, and the differences in outlook that may have complemented one another in more innocent times, now boil over into feuds and risk dragging up long-buried frictions. With a building sense of unease, we look on as Maire, whom we had down as an outgoing nation-builder, becomes a ruthless rider. At the same time, the grounded, studious Carys who 'has it all' finds herself exploited. The tension builds, gradually but in fits and starts, until it reaches a climax...

The dynamic that struck me the most was the acknowledgement that no fatal argument ever ends in the same vein as it started - from an innocuous and often trivial disagreement, it morphs and swells and swerves and burrows to the point where it's about everything. Once an argument reaches that stage, it has the power to do lasting damage.

I loved and hated both characters in equal measure, at once wanting them to be real and glad that I don't have to live with them - a sure sign that Leyshon and O'Dwyer portrayed real, flawed humans with conflicting priorities. The sheer, unwavering attention to detail - Maire's untidiness vs Carys' orderliness, for instance - served to create a feeling of whole characters, with qualities and idiosyncrasies far beyond what was absolutely necessary. I found myself simultaneously drawn to the spontaneity of Maire, and suspicious of what might come next in her racing mind, just as I warmed to Carys' more particular ways, and resented the inevitable coldness and detachment that they could bring.

The decision to make this a musical piece adds further feeling to the production, with Elizabeth Leyshon's compositions punctuating the drama and helping establish the desired humour of each scene. The singing is a treat to behold - not just impressive but captivating and crucial in establishing the heady mood. It serves to demonstrate the two girls' Celtic roots with ease, and without recourse to exaggeration or caricature.

Staging by directors Gráinne Byrne and Emily Cameron is highly effective throughout, most notably in the scene immediately after the aforementioned climax, when Maire sits on her own, acutely aware of having no one left. The lighting and sound by Gregory Jordan and Hector Moyes achieves the perfect balance of being present enough to aid and focus the performance, whilst avoiding upstaging the players and distracting the audience.

18-22, Attractive, Insecure is a truly engaging performance, one of those that leaves its mark on the audience as they exit the house. It would take a very detached individual to see this play and not be moved, and a thoroughly impossible one not to be impressed.

18-22, Attractive, Insecure opened on 21st August and runs until 25th August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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