Kneecaps

July 4, 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆     Bursting with ideas

Assembly Roxy: Sat 2/Sun 3 July 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

Fizzing onto the Assembly Roxy’s upstairs space, Kneecaps, the debut production from grassroots company the Moot Point Collective, working in association with Framework Theatre Company, bursts with ideas and opinions.

Joe Hunter’s two-hander is hilarious and profound by turns as it examines how a recently split-up couple cope with being forced back together by a novel, contagious and seemingly fatal disease. Yet Hunter has so much to say that it sometimes becomes overcrowded with ideas.

Shelley Middler and Katrina Allen. Pic MPC

Director Rachel Fraser brings purpose and real energy to the piece, acted out on a wilfully chaotic set. Katrina Allen and Shelley Middler, as girlfriends Jess and Ali, put in a pair of excellent and believably natural performances to round out their well-constructed relationship.

In a beautifully conceived opening scene Ali, covered in blood and obviously distraught, arrives home to her midden of a flat only to be disturbed just as she is beginning to calm down. The intruder turns out to be Ali, who still has a key and is returning Jess’s things.

It is an opening packed with tension and naturally evolving dialogue that succeeds in skipping and skittering round Ali’s obvious question: “what happened?” for such a long time, that you want to stand up in your seat and demand Jess answer.

forensic creativity

Amidst all this stressing and exasperation, Allen and Middler succeed in sketching in the details of the couple’s fragile and complicated relationship with almost forensic creativity, as they drop in such seeming irrelevant details as Jess’s cat’s name or the DVD she forgot to bring back – often to strong comic effect.

The well-observed generalities of a modern day lesbian relationship are thoughtfully created. Yet there is a lot more to come as the specifics of their troubled relationship are revealed and the real prospect of re-igniting their relationship is both a pleasure and a threat.

Shelley Middler with Katrina Allen. Pic: MPC

A major element of what makes this such a compelling piece are the performances by Allen and Middler. Allan’s Jess is sharp and acerbic, seemingly in control and clearly the dominant partner. Middler’s Ali is fluffy to the point of being glaikit – not who you would want to be relying on in an emergency.

But as the play progresses, the pair add enough flesh and bones beneath these superficial appraisals to make the failed relationship tenable. Fraser’s sensible pacing ensures that there is a sense of anticipation as their anger explodes then expires and they gently slipping towards some kind of comfy resolution.

explosive

Not that Hunter is every going to allow this to get cozy. There’s too much to say, for one thing. And the literally explosive nature of the disease concocted by Hunter does not indicate a play which is going to wander gently to an idyllic end.

Not all Hunter’s ideas are as well thought through, however. Jess’s recovering alcoholism is straightforward enough, but her falling off the wagon and taking a first drink would surely have more profound implications to the character than here. And while some of the acting drunk is fairly good, on the whole it doesn’t ring as true as other aspects of the performance.

Katrina Allen. Pic MPC

Hunter’s big ideas concern conflict between different sides of the same coin.

One is to examine how Christians can resolve the different sects which disagree over the acceptance of gay relationships. How can the one God condemn gay life to some of their followers and promote it as harmonious to others? And what of those caught between the two?

Then there is the way that naming and defining our failings – alcoholism for example – might allow us to acknowledge, heal and grow, but also blinds us to failings which are not named and allows those who come to their aid to feel superior, while unable to see their own issues.

These are important issues which deserve airing and Hunter is to be applauded for bringing them to the light. However, they come at a point in the play where everything else seems to stop. It has reached an emotional peak and, without anywhere else to go, there is no nuance and the tone becomes hectoring.

Too many big ideas is no bad thing; it is just that they need more room to breath if they are not to stifle what goes on around them.

When this succeeds however, and it does for much of the time, this is a strong and challenging piece of theatre which shows a young theatre company putting down a marker for even better things to come.

Running time: One hour and 15 minutes (no interval).
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Sat 2/Sun 3 July 2022.
Evenings: 7pm.
Run ended.

Moot Point Collective on Twitter: @MootPointCo

ENDS

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