Shoreline’s last play of the year was a double-act of fear and fun that had its audience gripped from the very beginning.
Scary Play by Judith Johnson
It begins with a sparse set; downstage occupied by six characters in sleeping bags and littered with sweet wrappers and empty plastic bottles. The reason behind this empty stage becomes clear as the lights go down and torches are switched on. Minimalism aside, the lack of props and the dark backdrop are a decent metaphor for the endless imagination of a child.
The audience is introduced to the first six characters during a sleepover: friends Mal (Steven Hirst), Rob (Matt Ebbs), Tilly (Bethan Leyshon), Jaz (Pearl Nunn) and Boff (Harry Thurston), are in the middle of a scary story, told by Kal (Benjo Fraser), the obvious leader of the group.
There was a good use of space throughout, with a single prop door used for the transition from one scene to the next just by moving it to a different part of the stage. The lighting and sound effects were equally good, with dramatic entrances emphasised by the blinding gleam of a white light and shadowy figures silhouetted in the window of a “haunted” house.
Benjo Fraser did a lovely portrayal of Kal, the headstrong 10 year-old who refuses to admit his fears. First night nerves seemed to result in a muddled line and an unfortunate moment where an important prop was misplaced but he remained admirably professional for both situations. If anything, his having to imagine a weapon to hold to the throat of another character was ironically appropriate as a way of enhancing the themes of imagination and nightmares.
Steven Hirst’s Mal was well-acted and charming, providing comedic relief during the attempts by his best friend Kal to seem more mature. Matt Ebbs as Rob was particularly impressive in his use of expression and his contention for scream of the night, tied for 1st place with Bethan Leyshon and her portrayal of the sweet and passive Tilly.
Pearl Nunn’s Jaz was the voice of reason- smarter than her friends- and complimented Harry Thurston’s portrayal of Boff very well. Thurston himself was superb, with fantastic comic timing, good stage movement, and lovely facial expressions. Hannah-Lee Docherty played Lou, and got the annoying sister act down to a T.
The antagonists of the night were ‘Man’, performed by Fred Cooper, and ‘Monkey’, played by Anthony Dodwell. Cooper’s hunched shoulders and sinister tone made for an excellent villain, though his yell of frustration: “what do you know”, could have been a tad louder for more impact after such a build-up of tension. Dodwell’s Monkey, although non-speaking, was wonderfully creepy, with superb stage presence and excellent movement.
An appearance towards the end from Dominic Padfield provided relief from the horror of the house, with his performance as the Night Watchman having an admirably strong and positive impact on the audience in a short space of time.
Overall the play was well put-together with the cast, use of space, sound effects and lighting all being pretty-much spot on.
After a brief interval, we turn to a tale of three damned souls: No Exit by Sartre examines the concept of hell and creates a brand new version, without torture devices or screaming souls.
The first two characters introduced to the set are Joseph Garcin (Josh Hutin) and the Valet (Rex Liddiard). Both actors did a good job of introducing the scene and formed a good on-stage relationship. Liddiard’s wry tone was perfect for his character and a good contrast with Hutin’s portrayal of Garcin and his suspicion over the lack of thumbscrews.
Inès Serrano (Ria Nichols) is the next character to appear, with the dialogue between her and Garcin confirming to the audience that they are actually in hell. Estelle Rigault (Georgia Hayes) sweeps into the room as the third and final resident.
These three characters hail from different backgrounds and all have different stories to tell, however, Inès, a master manipulator of opinions, will quickly realise that they have in fact been placed there for a purpose.
Nichols’ portrayal of the character most honest of her flaws was faithful to Sartre’s original version, with good line delivery and a brilliant knack for reacting off her fellow actors. My only issue was movement, as there were a fair few occasions when Nichols appeared awkward; rarely raising her arms above her waist and therefore missing out on opportunities to convey stronger emotions. Otherwise, she gave a strong performance that gained momentum and confidence as the play developed.
Hutin as Garcin was sublime. His understanding of Garcin’s character- the callous deserter who wishes to be more of a man, lusting after Estelle in the hope of confirming his masculinity- was flawless, and his on-stage relationship with Nichols and Hayes was well established from the beginning. That all-important line, Sartre’s “hell is other people”, had a good build-up but was slightly disappointing in the final delivery, perhaps down to personal interpretation, but otherwise Hutin gave an absolutely outstanding performance.
Hayes was brilliant as the upper-class society woman, Estelle. Despite a couple of slips her accent was admirably well-executed, and her movement on stage matched the persona of the vain and sexualised character. A couple of intense scenes between Garcin and Inès had her caught gazing into space rather than playing off the other characters and their emotions, but otherwise a pretty much spot-on portrayal.
Overall the cast and crew pulled off one of Sartre’s most powerful works and kept their audience enthralled throughout. This was an enjoyable and interesting performance that had many leaning forwards in their seat until the lights went down.
Scary Play and No Exit were performed at the Taliesin theatre on the 17th and 18th May 2012. Scary Play was directed by Hazel Monaghan and co-directed by Harry Thurston. No Exit was directed by Matt Ebbs, with Fanny Messika as assistant director.