Review – Four Walls

August 22, 2013 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆    Flawed but fascinating

Bedlam Theatre (Venue 49) Fri 2 – Sat 24 Aug 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s Four Walls at the Bedlam Theatre seems to be a playful piece, somewhat reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, but with hints of something dark beneath the surface.

A girl called Sarah awakes to find her slippers refusing to be worn, her mirror rebelling against her and various other household objects being generally recalcitrant.

Elsa van der Wal as Sarah in Four Walls Photo © EUTC

Elsa van der Wal as Sarah in Four Walls Photo © EUTC

The surprise delivery of one glove leads her on a quest to find its fellow, while all the time there are hints of some unwelcome memories threatening to break through….

A charming atmosphere is created at the start of the play, which also has the unimpeachable logic such mixtures of the realistic and fantastic must possess but so seldom do. Even the presence of the two poo-obsessed slippers, however, does not make this a children’s entertainment.

From early on it becomes clear that there is going to be a massive shift in mood at some point. When this shift comes, it really should torpedo the play completely; but the acting and dialogue are not really up to the raw emotion on show, and the whole thing threatens to collapse under its own weight. This does not ever quite happen, however, which is proof that there is a great deal of intelligence and integrity behind the efforts here.

By both directing and writing, James Beagon has perhaps spread himself a little too thinly. There are jokes which are delivered in such a throwaway manner that it is all too evident no-one believes in them; there are also times when the dialogue is not so much overlapping as completely contemporaneous, and the words are totally lost.

Perhaps a more disinterested eye would have brought out more. Certainly the scene changes, where the participants rearrange the simple and versatile scenery under the choreography of Lorna Stephen, provide the most assured movement of the whole piece, and have a poetic effect aided by Rachel Bussom’s sound design.

Displays an admirable emotional honesty

Elsa van der Wal (Sarah) appears a little hesitant at times but does well in bearing some of the play’s most taxing moments and displays an admirable emotional honesty. Ellie Deans manages to convince as the fussy Grandmother Clock, while Lewis Robertson successfully suggests the true emotion behind the sarcastic Kettle, despite a tendency to gabble on occasion. Sean Errey and Lorna Stephen, as the two mysterious figures who hold the key to the mystery, have an almost impossible task and never quite have the sufficient gravitas despite their best efforts.

The most successful combination of acting and directing comes in skilful use of foreshadowing, as some of the early characterisations make more sense once we have seen the whole play. Lauren Moreau and Julia Carstairs are completely right as the Slippers, presented as an entirely convincing pair of bickering toddler siblings.

Marli Siu, meanwhile, is the star of the show as the Mirror, by turns playfully annoying and wide-eyed in glee, demonstrating tremendous timing and, ultimately, real emotional power.

Most of the faults in this piece come from ambition. First, there is the twist that destroys a carefully created world and could easily alienate the audience (and obviously did, in some cases). Second, there is the attempt to present in language a loss that appears to be beyond words. That it succeeds, even if only partially, is extremely praiseworthy.

Running time 1 hour
Run ends Sat 24 August 2012
Daily (not Suns) 1.30 pm
Venue 49, Bedlam Theatre, 11b Bristo Place, EH 1 1EZ
Tickets from www.edfringe.com
Bedlam website: www.bedlamfringe.co.uk

ENDS

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