Five from Inside

April 27, 2020 | By | 1 Reply More

★★★☆☆   Zippy

Traverse on YouTube: Wed 15 April – Sat 2 May 2020
Review by Joe Christie

A series of enigmatic, eclectic discoveries, Five From Inside’s guerrilla-portraits of isolation expose some of the tensions facing theatre-makers staring down a digital ‘new normal.’

As one of the first casualties of the enforced darkness in Scotland’s theatres, the team behind the Traverse’s flagship spring production, Donny’s Brain, have adapted to a difficult situation with grace, choosing to channel their pent up creative energy into developing five new monologues, each based on an idea a cast member presented to Donny’s writer, Rona Munro.

Michael Dylan in Mr Bubbles. Screengrab: Thom Dibdin

Five From Inside and the Traverse deserve kudos for both the speed with which these well-constructed and zippy vignettes were pulled together, and for assuming the role of guinea-pig to the content still in development by Scotland’s other major theatrical institutions.

According to director Caitlin Skinner, part of the impetus behind the project was to keep the creative team connected and entertained, and for this bond to cascade out to audiences craving the very same thing. Ironically, what emerges most strongly in the pick and mix of Munro’s characters is a pervading sense of physical and emotional isolation, reinforced by the disconnected tonal identities of the pieces, that push them further out to islands of their own.

well-rounded

Munro’s supple writing successfully matches the distinctive stylistic inclinations of the actors with a number of satisfying and entertaining conceits, only occasionally verging into twee. The most well-rounded monologues are the ones which focus on immediate circumstance rather than (slightly under explored) pathologies: Clemmy (Suzanne Magowan), the nanny of nightmares who faces estrangement from someone close to her; and Mr Bubbles (Michael Dylan), a children’s entertainer reeling from a triggering experience on live TV, are particular highlights.

Suzanne Magowan in Clemmy. Screengrab: Thom Dibdin

Both Magowan and Dylan pitch their performances at a tenor that matches the intimacy of the medium, modulating with humour and heart inside this more restrictive bandwidth.

Though in no way a new tension, these monologues have fewer tools than usual to find the balance between revealing too much and too little of their subjects. Munro has a knack for filling in her portraits at a teasing tempo, folding in some shrewd misdirects and letting some ambiguities linger.

This is served well by the punchy length, but certain darkly comic monologues, particularly Fern and Siobhan, still leave too many details unshaded, with Becky Minto’s design in these pieces enhancing the laughs more than the characters. The performances of Roanna Davidson as Siobhan and Lauren Grace as Fern convince, but the theatricality of their monologues bristles more against the new constraints.

emulate the immediacy

The production-at-large goes some lengths to try and emulate the immediacy of the live theatrical experience with one-take shots that eschew music, a time-limited window to watch the monologues, and a carefully curated mise-en-scène by Becky Minto.

Bhav Joshi in Jacob. Screengrab: Thom Dibdin

But this vloggy-verité aesthetic can’t help but play on existing expectations of the format, and, despite canny direction by Caitlin Skinner, the more theatrical, lyrical beats don’t translate well. The emotional palette is similarly impacted: the creeping vulnerability of Bhav Joshi’s reflective criminal Jacob rings especially true at close quarters – the explosive anger doesn’t.

Overall though, the Jacob monologue finds some elusive theatrical immediacy by taking full advantage of the new aesthetic. As Joshi picks up and moves the camera in a reluctant address to his brother, unable to look the camera in the eye, the viewer becomes voyeur in this intimate personal moment, with all the feelings that brings.

The most dynamic monologues trade soliloquy for direct address, where the actor’s intimate relationship with the person on the other side of the lens stirs imaginations – in place of the usual connect-the-dots of plot, theme and character.

pithy entertainment

As the creative team acknowledges – in line with the consensus that seems to be forming – there is nothing like the real deal of live performance. But Five From Inside, aside from being pithy entertainment, mines the digital medium for an unpredictability and intimacy not possible in the same form on stage.

That the pioneering team pulled this cabinet of curiosities together so quickly makes it all the more unfortunate that Donny’s Brain won’t make it to the Traverse stage for the foreseeable future. Beyond that, the project makes a strong case for using this period to take rapid and reckless creative risks, armed with the knowledge that some darlings may not survive the process.

Running times: Each monologue is under 10 minutes.
Traverse Theatre on YouTube
Available to stream from 7.30pm Wed 15 April – 9pm Sat 2 May 2020
Stream through the Traverse YouTube page here.

The project is previewed here: Five From Inside preview. 

Lauren Grace as Fern. Image: The Traverse

ENDS

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