May 28 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩    Honest reflection

Hidden Door Festival 2015: Sat 23/ Sat 30 May 2015

Sexuality, drugs and respect come under the spotlight in Musselburgh youth company Scratch the Surface’s semi-devised production in Hidden Door Festival’s Peely Room Theatre.

Those are tough nuts to crack without straying into the dead end of cliché. But the company bring off a strong and enthralling piece thanks to some strong individual performances and a sustained collective attention to its storytelling.

The cast of Mirrors. Photo Scratch the Surface

The cast of Mirrors. Photo: Scratch the Surface

A trio of teenagers approaching the final days of their final school exams provide Mirrors‘ main focus. John and Eddie are best mates – have been for years. John and Callie are going out – or at least they are supposed to be.

But when John and Eddie are flying high to the adrenaline of their latest escapade – daubing slogans across a painting at school – Eddie forgets himself and responds to John’s hug of triumph with a full blown kiss on the lips.

John’s response is an out-of-character explosion of violence. And while he still wants to hang out with Callie, he’s becoming increasingly distant and touchy about things which he really should be a lot more chilled about.

The trio are exceptionally well played. Shannon Mckenzie is a real find as Callie, bringing great depth to a complex character: scarred by the sudden loss of her mother and big sister, moody, demanding but distant towards John and proper big sister friendly towards Eddie.

Calum Johnston has an easy swinging sense of cool to his performance as John. The aggression explodes from him easily and he does that tricky thing of ensuring a real naturalism when John is out of it – whether he is high or paranoid.

a person lost

Thanks to sensible direction from Charles Hindley, Alex Fleming has a lot less to play with as Eddie. No great hints of camp or other such nonsense to codify his sexuality. Instead Fleming finds a person lost with the fears of how they will cope with their future – and what their place in it might be.

It’s not so much the events and their repercussions which really attract the attention here, but Scratch the Surface’s highly stylised telling of them.

Nowhere to hide - Calum Johnston and Shannon Mckenzie with cast. Photo: Scratch the Surface

Nowhere to hide – Calum Johnston and Shannon Mckenzie with cast. Photo: Scratch the Surface

The 15-strong cast’s use of the bare stage is simply superb, conjuring scenes out of nothing and allowing the lack of any set to concentrate the attention on the action. There really isn’t a weak link among them, although there are small elements of blocking and pace which could be attended to, while the temptation for characters to talk to each other rather than project is not always overcome.

The framing device, which puts Ralph Bannerman as the devil, Sam, pacing around with triumph showing off John’s downfall while Rowan Macfarlane’s Angel teeters around ineffectually, is cleverly and judiciously used. Any more and it would impose, but there is just enough to it. And Bannerman has a truly audacious swing to his step.

The drugs issue is also brought out with a notable lack of hysteria – it’s not the hedonism itself but when control becomes lost that is seen as tragic.

memorably told

The scene when John shares a spliff with Callie is memorably told, the rest of the cast circling the pair with first tiny makeup mirrors flashing the stage lighting around, as they chatter away. Then using the mirrors to beam torchlights onto the pair as the sense of dissociation brought on by the drug begins to take hold.

There’s no need to condone or condemn; the attitude is all there in the storytelling and the performances from Mckenzie and Johnston.

All the while, the themes of Eddie’s sexuality, John’s relationship with dependency and Callie’s inability to come to terms with her loss are teased out.

The whole is a shade heavy-handed when it comes to blaming previous generations for the attitudes of young people – hate being learned – and there is not enough space for several of the characters to go beyond caricature.

But when it has time to reflect on the issues it is portraying, this is finely constructed stuff.

Running time 50 minutes
Hidden Door Festival 2015: Peely Room Theatre
The Old Street Lighting Depot, King’s Stables Road, EH1 2JY.
Saturdays 23 and 30 May 2015

Scratch the Surface website: http://www.stsmusselburgh.co.uk/
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/scratchthesurfacemusselburgh


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