First Class

Aug 4 2014 | By More

★★★☆☆    Train of thought

Laughing Horse @ Espionage (Venue 185) Thurs 31 July – Sun 24 August 2014

Cleverly crafted and emotionally realistic, writer and director James Beagon’s show is always interesting even if it ultimately falls short in some areas.

Publicity image

Erin Elkin, Joe Walsh and Maddie Haynes. Publicity image: Relief Theatre

The venue for this free, non-ticketed show from Aulos Productions and Relief Theatre, in the Pravda bar in the depths of Espionage nightclub, is not ideal. More thought could perhaps have been put into adapting the staging, as sightlines are difficult for many of the audience – a situation which is not helped by the performers remaining seated much of the time.

Three travellers on three trains to Manchester in three different periods are forced to cope with the legacy of their disappointments, failures and tragedies.

The storylines unfold in parallel, and what could prove extremely confusing is deftly handled and easy to follow. The main characters are quickly and sympathetically established, while the cast play any necessary supporting characters with economy, variety and no little skill.

Erin Elkin, who plays runaway 1950s single mother Lydia, provides a sensitive portrayal whose initially understated nature leaves room for the development of the character that follows. Joe Walsh’s 1980s teacher Jack is believably harassed, but his comically twitchy performance, while effective, could perhaps be scaled back a little. Over time it becomes a little wearing and perhaps undermines the pathos in the writing. Maddie Haynes, as modern-day tennis player Rachel, dealing with depression and a career in freefall, is nuanced and subtle.

“understated and economical”

There is some attempt made at providing movement and variety in what is a very cramped acting space. It is notable that the play feels most vibrant when one of the three principals is interacting with one of the subsidiary characters.

Although the three travellers are recognisable types, stereotyping is avoided by the carefully drawing of the characters, with much that rings true – for example Jack’s admission that he has a fondness for a particular baby name ‘because I haven’t taught anyone called that yet.’ The writing is largely understated and economical, with the audience piecing together events through suggestions and hints. When it becomes more explicit, the drama does not work nearly so well – the performances become a little less assured as crisis points approach, while the ending seems artificial and unnecessarily laboured.

Nevertheless, an intriguing and satisfactory work that would be well worth your money even if it wasn’t free. Full marks for chutzpah, furthermore, for choosing a title that is such an open goal to lazy headline writers.

Running time 50 minutes
Laughing Horse @ Espionage, 4 India Buildings, Victoria St, EH1 2EX (Venue 185)
Thurs 31 July – Sun 24 August 2014
Daily at 12.00 noon
Free, non-ticketed
Information at

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