Grace and Marcus are a picture perfect, upper-middle class married couple, even with their opposing politics. They own their own home by their late 20s, she’s an artist and writer, and he works for the government. Nothing is as it seems on the surface, though. When radical old friend Aaron turns up much to Grace’s delight and Marcus’ resentment, the threesome’s complicated history stemming their student days is gradually relived over dinner. A series of fragmented, vague flashbacks interspersed with a confused present muddies truth, lies and allusions to a violent, dystopian world outside the tidy, suburban house – but there is a pronounced lack of overriding purpose to the messy story.
Apart from the bits of conflict between the three heightened stereotypes passing for characters, Titas Halder’s script doesn’t clearly communicate much at all. What passes for a story leans on generalised themes of MI5 levels of deception and a Big Brother society, but that’s it – there is no judgement on either. The over-written dialogue, lumpy exposition, and lack of wider context don’t add any clarity to the confused plot. The characters’ objectives are never justified by their environment and the flashbacks don’t properly excuse their actions in the present.
Halder seems to have big ideas, but a lack of understanding in how to execute them through effective storytelling and relationships. A series of events happen but they aren’t connected to each other properly or framed within a bigger context. There’s gore and violence, but its random and badly explained.
The actors struggle to connect to the work and there are some dreadful moments of over-acting and awkward delivery. They don’t seem to know where the story is going either, and their relationships hinge on clashing political ideologies rather character traits. Rather than given names, they may as well be called, “Tory”, “Labour” and “Lib Dem”.
One thing Theatre503 consistently nails is their design. Mark Bailey’s set is a placid home, but Katy Morison’s lighting transforms it into some alien thing that threatens the characters were it to come alive. The final few cues are more sinister than any of the story’s content.
Escape the Scaffold works hard to tell us something, but it’s never revealed what that something is. The story makes little sense, and the social-political perspectives on show are never explored with any depth. The characters merely manifest these perspectives, and nothing is resolved in the end – but neither is it a deliberate choice to leave the plot open ended. This one needs to go back to drawing board.
Escape the Scaffold runs through 16 May.
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