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Festival Review: Assembly

Michael Cox reviews In Tents and Purposes, Wrecked, Stuff, How Is Uncle John and Binari.

In Tents and Purposes ***

Two actors, Roxy Dunn (who also writes) and Alys Metcalf, have come to Edinburgh to present a play about two friends, showing the span of their lives from recent graduates to 30-year olds and what happens when they have their fortunes read at a music festival. Did the fortune shape their fates, or did what happen occur due to their own initiatives? While performing this play, Dunn and Metcalf talk to the audience and make comments to each other: all is not as harmonious as it seemed at the beginning.

It’s all very charming, and Dunn and Metcalf are both very good performers. However, the production has the aura of an actor’s degree show. The script is too intent on showing cleverness and seems as focused demonstrating that certain skills were mastered (working with invisible objects and alienation, to name but a few drama school staples) as it is in proving their mettle to any agents or industry people in attendance. It’s also a bit long—a few cuts wouldn’t go amiss.

But it is still good fun, and it’s intentions are pure enough—and the performers strong enough—to make it an enjoyable experience.

Wrecked ****

A car has crashed, wrapping itself around a tree. A woman, behind the wheel, has just come to. She is alone and struggling with her memory, save two facts: she knows she’s running from something, and she’s petrified to leave the car.

To say anymore would be giving the game away because part of the production’s strength comes in observing the woman figuring out who she is and what is happening. An audience of six watches as the story unfolds inside an actual car (a real wreck that sits as part of Assembly’s George Square performance spaces).

It’s a production that could have been a simple gimmick, but luckily writer/director Jonathon Carr’s script works well. The production is assisted by the site-specific ambiance of being inside an actual car, but the script would have sustained a performance in a small studio setting. And actor Kristy Bruce is terrific: she’s focused, sympathetic and consistently engaging.

Stuff ***

Performer Sean Kempton is clearly a talented man. He comes out on stage and, through props and recordings, looks at different definitions of love. He’s charming, easy to like, and his mime work is solid. He also has a very nice interplay with audience members: spirited and non-threatening.

But with a show that clocks in at 45 minutes, a good third of it focused on bringing audience members up to dance on stage, it feels like the piece is missing…well, stuff. The ‘stuff’ on hand is fine, but without more varied ‘stuff’, this Stuff is a bit too shallow on material.

How Is Uncle John? ***

There really is nothing more frustrating than a well-intentioned play that doesn’t quite measure up. Uncle John takes a brave, pertinent subject, sex trafficking, but manages to lose its way.

The play introduces us to two characters: Hope and her Mother. Hope has fallen madly in love and decides to go off on holiday with her new partner but finds herself betrayed, beaten, drugged and forced into the sex trade.

The subject matter is indeed worthy of theatrical exploration. Sadly, writer Sally Lewis’ buries everything into rambling monologues. So much time is spent setting up the events that Hope’s kidnapping doesn’t come until halfway—though when it does come, Lewis does not shy from the horrid details.

The script itself is muddled with unnecessary subplots involving Hope’s family back home and groundwork in her childhood. Thankfully, the piece is elevated by its two performers: Naomi Stafford as Hope and Holly Joyce as Mother. They are both excellent, adding needed humanity into the production and elevating a great concept gone wrong into a solid performance.

Binari ***

There is no denying the company for Binari wear their hearts on their sleeves as they dance, sing and perform. And there are moments, particularly the beginning and ending, where it works wonderfully.

But the sad fact is that, for the most part, Binari is a disappointment. This is mostly down to the company’s need to pad the middle section with easy shenanigans that ring hollow. This is a shame, because the opening and closing moments have emotional potency—potency that is all but cancelled out by the weak moments.

Still, there are enough strong moments to make it good enough—but only just. That said, ensure you arrive early to read the handout that describes the action—without it, audiences will surely be lost.

In Tents and Purposes, Wrecked and Stuff are on at George Square. How is Uncle John? and Binari are on at Assembly Hall. Check website or programme for further details.

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