Ah stop it – you people at The Other Room – just stop it. It’s happened again, hasn’t it.
Not in a million years did I think The Other Room could pull off promenade theatre (where the audience generally goes on some of journey through the theatrical space). The space is well known now for its intimacy – if a letting agent were describing it, it would be ‘ultra-cosy’. Of course the creative team didn’t see it that way – where they saw challenge they saw opportunity.
The company have once again pushed the boundaries to show us what they can do. We have seen how they support good writing; we have seen how they hire fantastic actors; we have seen how they produce and nurture great emerging directors and we even know that they like a set designer with a flair. And this time, it is the designer (Amy Jane Cook) that steals the show.
The audience arrive and each are given a card telling them the path they are about to take in the space. As soon as you enter the theatre doors you are guided to a path depending on what your card says. The space has been split into three rooms and an outside space. In each space there is a lone character.
The first, Stephen (Neal McWilliams), gives a heart wrenching account of the daughter he once had and how she was taken away from him – not what you might expect. His story was placed in a modest hotel with paper thin walls allowing the street noise to heighten to the intended awkwardness. McWilliams performance was particularly affecting – I liken it to a slow boiling of a kettle, it doesn’t explode or boil over, rather it reaches its peak and proceeds to cool down. I have seen McWilliams a few times now and he is at his best here – he was a fantastic.
In the second room there was Frank (Roger Evans) expressing the story of his guilt for the part he played or didn’t play in his son’s brutal destiny. The room he is in, takes the form of a giant taxi cab and the audience watch him perform with his back to them – the audience were able to watch his facial expressions through the rear view mirror. Evans is equally haunting as he is funny.
The final performance is outside at the back of the theatre space. The audience watch as Alex (Gwenllian Higgnson) busks singing a song with a telling tone. Higginson gives a wonderful performance expressing her character’s brokenness beautifully.
You’ll have noticed that I end on the third of four monologues – because this is what happens on the night – you only get three sides of the story – with the other audience seeing three different ones than you. I will admit I was initially a little miffed as I was enjoying myself so much and thought I had another monologue to enjoy. I will have to fill in Ruth’s (Nicola Reynolds) story with my own imagination.
Despite this, it was a clever move by the company leaving you with enough ambiguity in the story for you ponder over making last longer than the show itself.
This new writing from Mathew Bulgo is beautifully constructed and haunting in its sense of loss, grief and guilt. Each monologue works as a stand alone story but they are subtly woven together by its setting and circumstance: what happens on Constellation Street. There were couple of times where I thought the writing was a little clichéd and could have been a little more specific in their imagery – but these instances were in isolation in what was an otherwise brilliant text.
Kudos to Chelsey Gillard and Dan Jones for their vision and understanding of Bulgo’s script. They have achieved in drawing all the disparate elements of the production into a finely produced and thought provoking evening.
Runs until 30th April
Images: Aenne Pallasca