Spill, Pleasance Theatre

Discovering sex is probably one of the most definitive moments of a young life. Good, bad or indifferent, everyone remembers their sexual awakening. Masturbation, losing your virginity, rape, fantasies, dating, sexual identity and a handful of other topics come up in Propolis Theatre’s Spill, with a cast of eleven young theatre makers from Bristol. This verbatim piece is sweetly naive, but wittily blends music, song and a bit of delightful puppetry into the edited interview text, effectively breaking up the interweaving monologues. Though the material isn’t cutting edge or particularly interesting to more “experienced”, older audience members, Spill is well executed and full of heart.

Verbatim theatre created from the answers to interview questions can be tedious to sit through due to the first-person narratives and lack of dialogue between characters. Even chopped up and interspersed, engagement between performers often feels forced, if it’s there at all. Actors can stand there actively listening to each other as much as they like, but there’s still no getting away from the perceived self-involvement that comes from talking extensively about one’s own experiences. 

Propolis uses this format as the base, but they effectively utilise music, spoken word and song to emphasise particularly poignant moments and counter any potential monotony. Abstract movement sequences give the eye something engaging to take in, particularly when they’re as well executed as they are here. These devices make the piece much more interesting and able to hold audience attention for its duration. This fluid, changing form they have created is by far the most dynamic aspect of the production.

The eleven-strong ensemble never looks crowded; their choreography and staging is pleasingly slick. A simple set is colourful and striking, finding the balance between overly simple and excessive.

There is nothing innovative about the script though, particularly for an audience past their early twenties. Spill feels like it could be a TIE piece for 6th formers or freshers who are more likely to immediately relate to the stories of self-discovery. They otherwise come across as adorably nostalgic, even played by the young cast. There’s a good amount of humour and reflection in the language, and it’s admirably diverse and inclusive. 

Spill is certainly a polished piece of theatre that employs a some great devices, but the form and structure is more exciting than the content. It has clear potential as a touring show, though it will resonate much more with young people.

Spill runs at Edinburgh Fringe through August.

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