views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

A Single Act
Theatro Technis
16th June 2015

★★★★☆

Lucy Hirst and Tom Myles as Michelle and Scott

Photography provided by Duelling Productions

The thing about fight or flight is that you just don't know how you're going to react until the moment is upon you. For middle-class lawyer Clea (Katherine Stevens), her inability to muster up her inner heroine and help others following an unspecified terrorist attack comes as an unpleasant surprise. No self-congratulatory pat on the back. That revelation about herself would be the end of a bad day if only her photographer boyfriend Neil (Philippe Edwards) hadn't witnessed events up close and started withdrawing from her both emotionally and physically. Clea wants to move on, Neil can't, the suffering of others replaying in his mind over and over. For Michelle (Lucy Hirst), this is just one bad day in a never-ending string of them. Trapped in an abusive relationship with Scott (Tom Myles), she can't take on anyone else's worries, she's too busy drowning in her own. Jane Brodie's play A Single Act frames both couples against this background of a world at risk and living in fear.

When we first meet Brodie's protagonists, they're all covered in dust. At first this seems to symbolise the crumbling of their flawed relationships - the cracks are immediately apparent - then we realise it's the physical aftermath of the city falling. This is the ash from what we imagine to be a substantial building being destroyed. Time moves on and the dust isn't brushed off; the impact of the attack still keenly felt, particularly by Clea and Neil. Both couples are dressed in simple colours and clothes by costume designer Sarah Pearson, with a lack of shoes reinforcing a vulnerability in all of them. Whilst there is a basic premise, this production is less about action and more about emotion.

With the present day dynamic established, the timeline splinters, with one couple going forward and the other back. The shift in behaviour makes which direction clear - Michelle in particular reverts from a scared wreck back into her original, smiley, confident, marginally younger self. However, jumping around doesn't add much to our understanding. We have to assume that someone stuck in a cycle of abuse hasn't knowingly hooked up with an obviously manipulative partner and that someone suffering from PTSD is only going to get worse if no help is sought. The link between the attack and Neil and Clea's failing relationship is made crystal, but Brodie never indicates how this ties into Scott's behaviour. We may not understand all of Neil's actions, however we're given some justification. We never get any kind of explanation for why Scott treats Michelle so badly, and it's a frustrating missing puzzle piece. Keeping the specifics of the act of terrorism vague does help prevent the script form aging, but this does perhaps prevent Brodie from fully fleshing out Scott's character.

Philippe Edwards and Katherine Stevens as Neil and Clea

Photography provided by Duelling Productions

What I remember most vividly from last summer's The Norman Conquests is the strong sense of movement and that's built on by movement director Jasmine Ricketts. The interludes become dances between each couple, always underlining a sentiment from the prior scene. Music by Olafur Arnolds is powerful and together with the movement, helps strip away the plot and focus on the raw emotion. There's a deliberate overlap between the two couples entering and exiting the stage, with director Jamie Manton reinforcing the contrast between them and helping us to understand that the two plotlines are interlinked somehow - something we'll eventually find out.

Although Clea is written as an urban stereotype, Manton really succeeds in making all the characters feel rather more genuine than that. As Neil drifts further and further away, Clea's face and body language reveal how hurt she truly feels. She can't help but take Neil's rejection personally, even though it's been triggered by an external event. We don't get any answers in how to deal with PTSD, but we do appreciate that the fallout is complex and long-lasting. Some hope would be nice, but we'll settle for awareness.

There's a remarkable maturity in A Single Act despite the youth of the cast and crew, with the only real weaknesses in the original text rather than how they've chosen to interpret it. The nature of the piece means you're more likely to feel cold and disconnected afterwards rather than weep for the tragedy in the story. Still, the lack of outward reaction doesn't mean this isn't a skilfully executed and poignant production. Duelling Productions are certainly an emerging talent to be reckoned with.

A Single Act ran from 16th to 20th June 2015 at Theatro Technis.

Nearest tube station: Mornington Crescent (Northern)



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