Worlds, VAULT Festival

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by guest critic Willa O’Brian

Housed in the studio space at the Vault Festival, which exudes graffiti-chic and pulls hip, supportive and discerning audiences, Bruised Sky productions presents Worlds, written and directed by Martin Murphy. Worlds opens with a nondescript pop song of the ilk that seems intended to tug on one’s heartstrings. The kind you hear over a montage of the hero of the rom-com sadly perusing photos of his ex-girlfriend when he has an epiphany about how to win her back. Needless to say, not an auspicious start, but we discover that one of the characters, Bas is a Dublin-boy living in London making a killing at being a musician, “mostly pop, really if I’m being honest with myself.” In a world where the number of downloads rather than emotional authenticity are the barometer to success, the track overlaying the opening is a rather fitting choice.

Either side of the stage is flanked with clothes rails, displaying the cossies the actors will be dipping in and out of. Said actors, Naomi Sheldon and Andrew Macklin, wander the stage, aimlessly checking props and chatting with one another, ready to get down to business. Sadly, once the audience sit down and the lights go up, the play never quite seems to come off the starting blocks.

Stylistically, Worlds is a ragtag bunch of scenes that never quite seem to tie together. We meet nine characters who ostensibly have all showed to this former pub turned B&B for a wedding. The characters and their idiosyncrasies are well observed but too broadly drawn to be wholly convincing. Naomi Sheldon – fresh off the Queen’s theatre stage playing Tuppence in Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime – seems most at home in the RP character Samantha, laconic and austere. She pads around the stage in Audrey Hepburn black slacks and flats and sports a fringe to match. Andrew Macklin is all charm and swaggers. They’re likeable, the pair of them, and thank goodness because the narratives wander and seem to interweave but it all becomes a bit muddled. How many weddings are happening in this hotel in the middle of nowhere-Ireland and how did such a disparate cast of characters with a pick n’ mix of showcase accents end up here? We have a cockney pair that may be doing a drug deal but aren’t, the guy suffers from agoraphobia or paranoia but wants to set up a business with the girl who turns out is pregnant with their child. There are so many convoluted plot twists that want to be a reveal, but just leave the audience wondering – where in the “worlds” am I?

Perhaps that’s the point. The audience is privy to the mechanics of the piece, watching the metamorphosis of each character with the use of one costume piece. Maybe that’s all people are, constructed versions of themselves – I pick up a guitar and I am now a musician. But if the play attempts to reveal that we’re all curating our own narratives, then there must be a satisfying reveal to what lies beneath that facade. Without that it all feels a bit like an acting exercise. Clocking in at just under an hour, Worlds is reasonably well acted but lacking pace, wit and intensity. As with this mythic B&B, “in the middle of nowhere” is a pretty apt description of where Worlds leave the audience at the end of the piece.

Worlds runs through 29 January.

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