Emile and Emily, VAULT Festival

by Laura Kressly

In each of the three unrelated scenes that make up this triptych, a different Emily and an Emile tackle big ideas. Two flatmates argue about class privilege, a pair of flight attendants mull over love and confronting fears, and grief dominates the conversation between a man and his dead boyfriend’s sister. Each scene has some strong moments and the issues are prescient, but the writing quality varies and it’s unclear why these particular stories are produced together.

The strongest is the final scene, where this Emile and Emily are in her house in California. He’s on a solo, great American roadtrip after his partner Louis’ untimely and tragic death. Neither character feels comfortable in their own skins, which are filled with introversion and heavy sadness. This results in plenty of awkward pauses that let the brief story breathe. They barely know each other but are brought together by terrible misfortune, so they teeter between guarding themselves and oversharing. The delivery is well-paced and convincing, and the discomfort of the situation naturally gives rise to a capitvating tension.

In contrast, both of the first two scenes are heavily over-written. Though the use of comedy in the second one means this is less of an issue, the first scene is relentless political discourse that overshadows any attempts to develop the plot and characters. Working class Emile and upper-middle class Emily are thinly sketched cyphers busy defending their views, but little else happens. Both feel attacked, and neither listens to each other. As much as Emile’s critique of privilege is valid, there’s nothing new or original being contributed to wider discourse, the characterisation relies on stereotypes and nothing really happens in this unresolved argument.

As a whole, there’s no clear reason as to how these particular stories are thematically or stylistically related, or why the company chose them. The production seems haphazard rather than curated with thought and care.

Emile and Emily runs through 26 February.

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