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Broken
Etcetera Theatre
15th August 2017

★★☆☆☆

Publicity image for Broken

Photography provided by No Pictures Please Productions

Broken charts the classic relationship story of love at first sight, blossoming romance, sudden decline, breakup and regret. The show combines classic Shakespearean pentameter with modern parlance, including Cockney rhyming slang and lots, and lots, of swearing.

Matthew Lyon's play, directed by Dominique Gerrard, presents us with Boy (Lyon) and Girl (Lauren Mills), who alternate between live scenes and monologues as they talk the audience through their differing takes on this rise-and-fall relationship. It's very much no-holds-barred throughout, with expletives punctuating the Shakespearean verse and comic sex scenes leaving little to the imagination.

Both Lyon and Mills could easily have hailed from Albert Square - accents and projection were solid throughout, and both are strong comedy actors who fitted their part well, though on balance, Mills brought the most energy to the piece. The staging was effective, with lighting clearly portraying warm, cold and confrontational as required.

The language flows fairly neatly, though I must admit I balked at two lines in particular, namely the one in which Boy calls himself "gay" for repeating himself, and later, when Girl declares that she ought to be wife to a "fit boy". Alternating style needs to alternate in the right places, and even just the occasional clunky (and in the former case, pretty vulgar and dated) choice of words risks lowering the tone of the whole performance.

The main issue is that I repeatedly found myself wondering what the motive behind the performance was. What was I here to see? Take away the window dressing, and this is a conventional, unsurprising love story set to a Shakespeare theme. On the verse, I understand the premise - that juxtaposing some of old Bill's English against cockney slang and swearing has the potential to be funny because of the contrast. It's just that, even if I can't quite put my finger on exactly where I've seen something similar before, the fact remains that lots of writers and directors, in lots of places and at lots of times, have indeed done something similar before.

The 'Let's modernise Shakespeare' market is a crowded one - I remember seeing A Midsummer Night's Dream set on a space ship with everyone dressed in bin bags at the Edinburgh Fringe some 16 years ago - and whilst Broken is thankfully more original than that, the point is that it's easy to go in with what feels like a fresh idea and find that it doesn't stand out against the intense competition. So whilst I get what Lyon and Gerrard have set out to achieve, and I recognise language juxtaposition to be an effective oratory technique, it feels insufficient to carry an hour-long play as its primary vehicle.In short, it needs a new selling point.

There was also little rise-and-fall in pace to keep the audience alert - I couldn't help feeling that I was on a river ride, watching the story drift by at a steady and predictable rate, rather than the rollercoaster I had expected. I so wanted Broken to work, as I could see how much blood, sweat and tears had gone into writing and rehearsing a complex script - memorising roughly half an hour of lines each is no mean feat in itself, and add in the complication of two versions of English and the challenge is immense. Lyon is without doubt a skilled wordsmith. I must be honest, however, and admit that throughout the show I just had an overwhelming feeling that this was a concept that had been rolled too thin.

It is likely that with a condensed script, coupled with a more unpredictable plot and more variation in pace, this show could engage and delight as intended. It already contains ingredients that ought to work, but the measures need adjustment in its next incarnation.

Broken opened on 14th August and runs until 17th August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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