views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Quills and Crosses
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
30th August 2015


Peter Mawson

Photography provided by Peter Mawson

The year is 15-something and Mathias is sitting at his writing desk. Not unexpected, given he's a scribe and this is what he spends most of his day doing: writing. Quills and Crosses is very much a labour of love for Peter Mawson, who has given Mathias a voice by himself, taking on the writing, direction and acting. The subject matter is unusual - we saw over 60 shows at this year's Camden Fringe and this was the only to have a Tudor in it. Unusual is good, we like anything out of the ordinary, but the plot essentially boils down to Mathias thinking his dear old deceased dad might not actually be his real father, and this instead the local Abbot. Oh, the scandal! Well, in 16th-century England, maybe so, however for today's audiences, it's not really that explosive. Jeremy Kyle has a lot to answer for.

Mawson has obviously spotted the mock-Tudor exterior of The Gatehouse pub and decided the venue is an ideal match for his show, however it doesn't feel like the most natural pairing. Upstairs at the Gatehouse is one of the largest theatres on the fringe circuit, with a capacity of 128 and a bloody big stage, making the space itself seem extravagant for a one-night only one-man play. Given most Highgate theatregoers prefer established works or revivals, it doesn't necessarily feel like the right place to try out new writing either.

It becomes evident early on that Mawson is suffering from nerves, yet continues bravely with his show for the full hour, the running time proving he doesn't speed up due to anxiety. The refusal to look at the audience directly, the sharp breaths and increasing fluffing all betray that this determination to tell Mathias' story is starting to become an ordeal, however to Mawson's absolute credit, his actual lines never once waver. It's just a shame there's not more variety in his voice; certain lines should feel funnier. Whilst passing references to Mathias's father dying in a cesspit and the King banning his latest wardrobe don't land, with a more engaging delivery, these could get some genuine chuckles. The fault is not the dialogue itself, it's in how it's delivered.

Mawson largely ignores house left, getting up from his desk and walking around house right before sitting down again. Part of this comes down to choosing to put on a play in a space which is far too big for the show, but having committed to the venue, he needs to adapt better to what he's got.

Quills and Crosses is certainly nothing if not a baptism of fire - Mawson demonstrates a clear passion for his subject matter, however makes a number of common mistakes. Like many new performers, he assumes he can do it all, but a director would have tightened up his delivery and helped him make better use of the stage. With that guidance from another person, he probably would have felt more confident. A difficult debut, but not one without promise.

Quills and Crosses ran on 30th August 2015 at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Highgate (Northern)

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