Beachy Head

December 3, 2016 | By | 1 Reply More

★★★★☆  Effecting

Assembly Roxy: Wed 30 Nov – Sat 3 Dec 2016
Review by Thom Dibdin

Intense but bitty, the Grads production of Beachy Head – at Assembly Roxy to Saturday – gets right to the heart of Dan Rebellato and Analogue Theatre’s filmic script.

As a play, this expects rather more technical gimmickry than the Grads are equipped to provide. So director Ross Hope focusses back onto the performances to drive the story of Amy, widowed by her husband Stephen’s suicide.

Alan Patterson. Photo: J Gordon Hughes

Alan Patterson. Photo: J Gordon Hughes

It is a story of consequences, of what happens after. Of how a living being turns into a falling lump of biology, how an idea becomes an obsession, how a fumbled encounter becomes a lie.

Central to the production’s success is Alan Patterson’s performance as Stephen. First seen in cadaverous outline, the void around which the action takes place, he comes increasingly into focus as a fleshed-out character as the play proceeds.

It is in this swimming into focus that Hope finds the play’s energy, as the events surrounding Stephen’s death become clear. And once they are clear, it is Patterson’s immense delivery of the final moments of Stephen’s life that dig deep into your emotional solar plexus and leave you gasping for breath.

Scripted by Rebellato with Analogue members Emma Jowett and Lewis Hetherington, and devised by the Analogue company, this was a big hit at the fringe in 2009. That production made strong use of integrated film and visuals. Hope, too, uses live camera – and cleverly too – but it feels quite rough hewn.

consistent

The tricky thing for any production is that in its 90 minutes, Beachy Head has almost 40 scenes as the narrative bounces between Amy, Dr Sampson who carried out Stephen’s autopsy and a pair of geeky film-makers who discover that they have inadvertently filmed the suicide itself.

Hannah Bradley, Thomas Timms and Oli Trotter. Photo J Gordon Hughes

Hannah Bradley, Thomas Timms and Oli Trotter. Photo J Gordon Hughes

That’s one scene change every two minutes. And while Hope and his back-stage team put their all into keeping them as unobtrusive as possible, the opening scenes are not as smooth as they need to be.

The performers, however, succeed in keeping the arc of their characters completely consistent within the non-linear narrative. No one better than Hannah Bradley as Amy, first seen picking up Stephen’s effects from Dr Sampson, who performed the autopsy on him.

At this point she creates a woman who is not only distraught at the loss of the man she loved, but is caught in a tangle of guilt; of remembering their last moments together and not knowing how much, if at all, she was responsible. However, when the narrative eventually gets round to showing her before Stephen’s death, she is a completely different, yet still very much the same.

If Amy is trapped in the grip of an emotional vice, unable to progress, then Dr Sampson is trapped in its antithesis: the lack of emotional engagement with the body she has just cut up. Cari Sivils gives her a sense of dislocation as tries to engage with Amy, but her real emotional engagement is with the process itself.

vicious

Coming in to disrupt both these perspectives are the excruciatingly un-aware pair of film-makers, Joe and Matt. Oli Trotter creates an inadvertently vicious, self-obsessed interviewer in Joe. Thomas Timms as his camera man Matt provides a partial conscience but, despite disapproving, is silent when it comes to the crunch.

Trotter is so outrageously self-absorbed, particularly in the presence of Amy, that it is viciously hysterical to watch. Even though Timms is not quite as effective, their double act provides a fascinating demonstration of the way that people react to bereavement in others, relating it to themselves and apologising for the benefit of their own conscience, not the bereaved person’s peace of mind.

A brave and sensitive production which would benefit from a reassessment of its technical side. But which runs deep when it comes to the performances.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes (no interval)
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH 9SU.
Wednesday 30 November – Saturday 3 December 2016
Evenings: 7.30pm
Grads website: www.egtg.co.uk
Grads on Facebook: edingrads
Grads on Twitter: @TheGrads #BeachyGrads

Purchase the script from Amazon

ENDS

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