Theatre FootNotes for September 2019 – a summary of other theatre events in my diary

SHAPING DUST – A work in progress from company Fancy Another? at the Tristan Bates Theatre (John Thaw Studio) at the start of September. Part of the theatre’s John Thaw Initiative Graduate Season 2019.

Are we still ourselves without our memories? Emma explores her past on her final day in her childhood home.

We open in the present day on Emma’s final day in her childhood home. Searching for a very important tea cup Emma is led through her house, discovering more and more of her memories until she enters an upstairs bedroom and encounters a memory that shakes her sense of self. Described as ‘magical realism on stage’, Fancy Another? uses puppetry, movement and hard-hitting naturalism to explore how identity is formed by memory and how our sense of self changes if we lose our memories. 

Currently only 30 minutes long, this is an early incarnation of a work which focuses on Alzheimer’s and makes some interesting points about the specifics of memory loss, including a brilliant analogy about memories being books in a bookcase and dementia being an earthquake which causes the bookcase to shake.

There was a lot of good work in the show that we saw, with some interesting use of visuals. I think that once they have doubled the length of the show and further developed some of their ideas, then they will have a show I would be pleased to see again.

EITHER – a new play by Ruby Thomas and directed by Guy Jones, at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

As we all know (or remember), our twentysomething years are a time of discovering who we are, what we are and what we want. And often we discover that those we thought we knew are more complex than we might have originally thought.

EITHER introduces itself as “a play about one couple …. who can be of any gender”.

EITHER is a story about two twentysomethings looking for love. Or sex. Or something. The two characters who seem to be in some developing, loose kind of relationship, are tested by the proliferation of opportunities for experimentation. As one character says, “Having an opportunity doesn’t mean that you should take it”

The two characters are played by a total of six actors, who weave in and out of the two main characters, in a sort of acting relay race. It’s intriguing for a while, and it certainly keeps you on your toes, but it reaps diminishing returns. Further, it does also have the downside of fragmenting character and making us rely more heavily on what is said rather than a deeper understanding of the two characters involved. In that sense it is rather unsatisfying.

The play weaves its way around lots of ideas asking more questions than providing answers. And it seems that an abundance of easy opportunities via technological distractions (dating apps, etc) makes it harder for these characters to define what they actually want from their relationships. The feeling from the play is that they are looking for answers from outside themselves, rather than looking inwards.

It’s undoubtedly an interesting take on sex and sexuality, commitment, liberation and labels. Gender-fluid and narrative-fluid as well as actor-fluid, this is a show which keeps moving the goalposts to enable us to see things from different perspectives and to encourage us to ask questions and challenge our assumptions. A late focus on a discovery by one of the character’s fathers who has dementia reminds us that every generation has their fallibilities.

Ruby Thomas’ well-observed dialogue (in her first full-length play) is very twenty-something, self-conscious and a little wince-inducing at times, but it fits the characters and their ongoing development. Guy Jones directs smartly on Bethany Wells’ clever minimal set design.

The two characters age several years though the play, finally returning to a similar conversation that opened the show, which perhaps signifies that they haven’t really got very far. Which sort of sums up how I felt about the play; although the journey was interesting and I am glad to have made time to see it.

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