views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Maledictus
Etcetera Theatre
16th August 2016

★★★☆☆

Publicity photograph for Maledictus

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

It doesn't matter how "normal" some people appear to be, they seem to end up trapped in really destructive relationships time after time again. Are some of us just cursed for a life of misery? It's an interesting supposition for a play, albeit one that smacks of victim blaming. Despite the large cast, Declan McLaughlin and Lewis Hinckley-Keens' Maledictus is a series of two-handers and monologues rather than one big drama. The different storylines are very different however all centre on abuse. So far, so grim. Don't let the subject matter put you off though, there's plenty of humour as well as some dark, gritty moments. And there's some wonderful acting too.

Whilst the individual vignettes are largely very strong, it feels like there are far too many voices packed into just one hour. Each actor has a main role, however some do double up as supporting cast and it's never particularly clear whether they are stepping into a different overlapping tale, or whether they are brand new characters. Although it's evident this is a new company with plenty of ideas and enthusiasm, separating Maledictus out into at least two, maybe three different plays would have a more powerful impact. Those of you trying to cram as many shows as possible into your Camden Fringe may well disagree, and find this particular value for money as well as for time!

The play begins with some easy comedy for those of us still old enough to remember Richard Whitely's glory days, Friends still being watchable and Big Brother being something new. (Yes, some of us are that old. Hush, now.) Melanie (Rosie Dunjay) is nonchalant, rude and quite distant and whilst her scenes with lecherous boss, John (Thomas Sansone) are humorous, Melanie's story is one that only hits you afterwards. Did we miss the point? After all, why was Melanie at home in the first place? And would an encounter have happened the way she recounted it to us? Are the chuckles disguising something far more sinister?

The story of Dean (Bryn Mitchell) and Taylor (Leanne Shorley) is particularly hard-hitting. They both wind each other up and there's a lot of relatable humour as they fight in front of friends. Although a lot of their arguments are ridiculous and played for laughs, they're also completely plausible with Mitchell and Shorley finding exactly the right delicate balance between the comic and the everyday. We're invested in the couple from the moment we meet them, and as their relationship starts to crumble, we see it coming, we understand completely and are powerless to intervene. The outcome is tragic, provocative and weighs heavily on us afterwards.

Similarly, the tale that Ole (Thomas Sansone) presents to us is horrifically plausible, well-acted and has an ending that we see coming and yet can't stop. It's a dark monologue punctuated by the other stories woven into this production, in which Sansone shows us that it doesn't matter how privileged you are, that's never a defence against emotional and physical abuse. Anyone can end up in that position, and walking away is harder than you'd think.

Out of all the characters packed into Maledictus, I felt Nomusa (Rele Molapo) fitted into the production the least. That's not to say I didn't find Molapo's performance truly captivating, or find her singing breathtaking and beautifully considered, just that her character seemed to deserve a platform on her own. As Molapo picks up an item that represents each family member, the framing of this scene is extraordinarily moving. However, counselling sessions with Andrew (Leigh Sorell) were robbed of their power by the competing scenes with the other characters.

Thought-provoking, funny, moving - Maledictus promises and delivers an awful lot. I would though like to see this play redeveloped into more than one piece, and spend as much time with the different characters crafted by McLaughlin and Lewis Hinckley-Keens that they truly deserve.

Maledictus ran from 15th to 18th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe. It then transfers to the Rabbit Hole from 27th to 29th August 2016.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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