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The Adding
The Cockpit
23rd September 2015

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for The Adding

Photography provided by Backstage Forward

Sex plus cuddles plus finance plus puppets equals The Adding, a new play written by Ciaràn Myers. Well, I say new - the plot borrows heavily from Elmer Rice's 1923 The Adding Machine. Myers' work features a rather pitiful nameless in-house accountant (David Maine) who works for a big company and snaps one day, but where it predominantly differs is in the addition of a love interest and co-lead (Kate Handford). Whilst she's utterly maddening and often overly blunt, we sense those qualities are why he's so beguiled by her.

We first meet this dysfunctional would-be couple in the woman's bedroom, after they've slept together. Tightly wrapping the duvet around herself, there's an awkwardness which hints at the newness of their union. Word play leads to power play and quickly they're in his office, with her interviewing for a job that doesn't even exist. Verbal exchanges are deliberately short and frustrating, making it difficult to establish motives and truths.

As a female accountant, I find it very hard to see many redeeming qualities in the male lead - it takes very little to tempt him into embezzlement and despite having a wife and kids, he has an affair and visits prostitutes. What's not to like? Yes, the woman plays some mean mind tricks and attempts to blackmail him, but as she isn't an accountant herself, she isn't bound by the same strict code of professional ethics and furthermore, is acting out of self-preservation. It's not that she's greedy; she's actually close to total destitution. He's chasing a bit of excitement in his banal, safe life, whereas she is simply trying to survive. Knowing how few options she has available to her, it's hard not to forgive her actions.

Designer Madeleine Hunter uses boxes and doors to represent offices, bedrooms, brothels, streets - her props are constantly recycled to good effect, and given that this is a play about choices and inevitability, using doors with all their symbolism rather than plain planks of wood is a nice touch. However, so much time is wasted on setting and resetting the stage. The repetitiveness rapidly grows tedious, giving us time to ponder how much of the 90 minutes could be trimmed by rewriting the script to minimise the constant switching between locations, or relying more on lighting to avoid the need for such lengthy scene changes. There are better ways of handling the transitioning, and this is where the company need to invest some time when preparing this short run for its next adventure.

Only three sides of The Cockpit are used, meaning there is one side of the square stage with no audience to block. I both understand and applaud the logic in director Catherine Fowles moving the sets around - even when we revisit the same environment, everything has been twisted at a different angle to give the audience a fresh perspective. However, there is one scene where one of Hunter's doors is propped up house-right, leading to a horribly restricted view for those in the corner. It doesn't make sense why Fowles doesn't simply rotate the action so that the door is propped up against the back wall, allowing all of us to read the odd couple's expressions. It's an emotional scene which loses its power when we can't see properly.

The opening sequence is long and drawn out - having the protagonists and stage hands set the stage before us for the first time adds nothing, other than the opportunity to listen to some overly dramatic music chosen by sound designer Tom Rackham which feels far too grand for this production. Whilst it's rare that a bit of music doesn't enhance a show, here the scale clashes with the mundane nature of the man's life. Admittedly, there are some twists and intentionally bizarre developments in the plot, but as strange as it becomes, it never really justifies the bold sound choices.

Although Handford's character is thoroughly infuriating and unpredictable, she certainly keeps life interesting, and is key to the production's success. She makes a big statement, retracts it, reissues it, retracts it - she makes the real truth hard to ascertain, however it's her easy bravado which betrays her vulnerability. No one is that tough naturally, they learn to protect themselves with that impenetrable façade because they've been badly hurt and let down before. Ordinarily, you would hate a woman who jokes about an unplanned pregnancy to her last sexual partner and threatens to extort money out of him. Hanford makes her so sympathetic, we still like her. Although we don't quite understand how the woman ticks, we're intrigued by her and it's her involvement in the plot which keeps us engaged.

Playwright Myers has several minor supporting parts, all of which are fine if un-noteworthy, and he also helps Clotilde de Verteuile manipulate her full body puppet, as voiced by Jessica Dives. There's a circular nature to the old puppet woman's actions and dialogue from the beginning, with her presence becoming more meaningful each time we see her. The inclusion of a puppet brings a certain otherworldly charm to the piece.

Whilst there are some aspects which could do with fine-tuning - the direction needing the most work - there are nonetheless fascinating flashes of something special in this play. Although not all of Myers' divergences from Rice's idea work better, his original character of the woman is written wonderfully and strengthens the overall impact of The Adding.

The Adding opened on 23rd September and runs until 24th September 2015 at The Cockpit.

Nearest station: Marylebone (Bakerloo)



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