The Misanthrope, Drayton Arms

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Exchange Theatre sets The Misanthrope in a contemporary newsroom full of gossip, affairs, backstabbing and cocaine-fueled all-nighters. Alceste loathes the way his colleagues behave, but fancies the flirtatious Celimene in spite of his prejudices. His jealousy and inability to be polite to his colleagues causes a litany of issues that play out over their broadcasts, eventually leading to his lonely downfall.

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The People Show 124: Fallout, Toynbee Studios

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Making devised work for the past 50 years, People Show are nothing less than prolific. Their multidisciplinary works are numbered as part of the title; the company’s works now number 132. To celebrate their anniversary, the company’s taken over Toynbee Studios for three days, filling the venue with performances, films and an exhibition celebrating their half a century of work.

People Show 124: Fallout, first performed in 2013, is resurrected here. The piece deconstructs speeches by public figures and adds light, sound and film; the overall effect is one of provocative absurdity – isolated soundbites lose all meaning, even in a world that’s said to be falling apart. This short piece drives its point home quickly and efficiently and stimulates the senses, but with its message emphasising meaninglessness, it soon becomes repetitive.

Everything in the room is white, even the padded floor is powdered with talc to add an additional layer of frost. Pillows attached to the walls evoke a soothing dreamscape. But soon, pulsing colours disturb the peace as the cast of four fiercely deliver snippets of text. The lights are often so bright they are uncomfortable, even though the colours are childlike and fun. The juxtaposition is clever and sharp, and the switch from austere to saturated is an effective one.

The actors’ tone ranges from gentle to antagonistic, with a decidedly post-apocalyptic bent to the text. Projections of sweeping desert landscapes back up the promises of nuclear fallout, though the dreamy atmosphere from the beginning still lingers – what is real, and what is the product of our subconscious? The disconnect from reality diminishes any potential meaning, making the outcome decidedly absurd, even though the intention seems to want to carry more weight.

This colourful world enhanced with gorgeous projections, bright lights and music is integrated  with the text, though there is a lack of development in the core idea of the piece. If real life is has no purpose and we’re better off in a dream because the world is hellbent on destroying us, that’s fine – but a performance telling us that is not an easy thing to execute and in this case, not done fully effectively.

People Show 124: Fallout is now closed.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Party Trap, Shoreditch Town Hall

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Politicians and members of the press are hardly the best of bedfellows. Unrestrained and violent, Ross Sutherland’s Party Trap explodes this relationship in a dystopian TV interview between journalist Sir David Bradley and MP Amanda Barkham after a landmark decision classifying political criticism as hate speech. Sutherland sets himself the challenge of telling his story through a script that’s an extended palindrome – an impressive feat, were it executed with more of a focus on storytelling rather than showing off a clever concept.

The palindromic writing isn’t particularly pronounced; instead it creates a haunting sense of deja vu once the script passes the halfway point. The shift in power and control from David to Amanda, and the action’s dark turn prevents it from turning stale, but the script structure is still more of a hindrance than a help. The language takes precedence over story clarity, so the plot soon muddies. The slightly futuristic premise becomes less and less tenable, to the point that the entire reality of the piece is called into question. There is little solid ground on which to build a sturdy plot line; language isn’t enough even though this experiment is certainly an interesting one.

The performances are one of the biggest disappointments. Cold and detached, they are couched in venomous sarcasm and violence. Simon Hepworth as Sir David Bradley has some nice moments of vulnerability and depth, but these are too little and too late. Otherwise, he and Zara Plessard are ruthless, calculating and distant. Video performances of other characters are relied on to fill in for news broadcasts and line managers with disturbing agendas; these characters are as self-absorbed as the two on stage.

The design elements are unobtrusive and tie the production together well, with Sutherland’s projections and video being particularly slick.There is no question that Party Trap is well-planned and thought out, but the concept is so prominent that it prevents a story from shining through. It’s a worthy experiment, but one that doesn’t work.

Party Trap runs through 1 October.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Agent of Influence: The Secret Life of Pamela More, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Lady Pamela More covers fashion and socialites for The Times and she has no interest in any other topic. As Britain’s involvement in the war becomes certain, her disinterest in politics and international affairs wanes, and her social circles are split into those who support Germany and those who believe the whispered stories coming across the channel. With newfound purpose and contacts, the use of her journalistic skills changes direction to a more practical use – she is recruited to spy on Britain’s elite.

Sarah Sigal reinvents Pamela from her 2014 Park Theatre play World Enough and Time, now making the character the primary subject of a solo performance. Reprised by Rebecca Dunn, Pamela recounts her wartime adventures through past-tense narration and dialogue between herself and impersonated peers. She meets and watches real people from British history, moulding a clear perspective of their wartime activities – this is the most interesting aspect of the narrative. Who the audience is, or why she is telling us her story is never made clear, though. Her tale is interesting enough, but what is it’s point?

The scenes Dunn enacts are more dynamic than the stretches of narration that span the years surrounding the war. She employs accents and an impressive vocal range to differentiate between herself and those she converses with, often with charm and humour. Her storytelling is good enough to maintain attention, but as no moral or message emerges from the text, the ambiguity of the script dwarfs Dunn’s ability.

Agent of Influence: The Secret Life of Pamela More suits a written format much more so than a staged one – it would make a lovely novella what with its detailed description of the setting and characters involved. Though its well performed and a good story in and of itself, theatricality gets in the way, making this solo performance piece fall flat.

Agent of Influence: The Secret Life of Pamela More runs through 28th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.