Feb 3 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆      Intriguing

Online: Wed 2 – Sat 5 Feb 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

prism, Production Lines’ latest venture into live, interactive online theatre, is very much a curate’s egg. Much of it is interesting and well played, but other parts are less well realised.

In cmfwood’s drama, the audience are cast in the roles of members of a Children’s Panel who are asked to deliberate on who should have custody of four-year-old Storm. They are told how she came to be the focus of a three-way battle between mother, father and the woman who has been looking after her, from different characters’ points of view.

Alan Patterson, Vanashree Thapliyal, Caroline Mathison and Gregor Haddow

The biggest problem with Production Lines’ previous interactive offering roulette was the seeming desire to include all of the possible material, with only the order being determined by the audience. Here, we only get to see two out of the three possible viewpoints at each stage of the story, which is a vast improvement both in terms of appearing to be interactive and in the length of the piece.

An hour and a half still seems a long time to be in a Zoom call, however, and the five minute break – coming as it does after 75 minutes – is too late to be of any real use.

There are definite pluses and minuses to the Rashomon-like structure with its differing viewpoints. There is an intriguing, flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants feel to some of it, with the cast reacting to the different scenarios with skill.

pretty revolting

However, while some of the scenes present the same events with a very different slant, there are occasions when there is very little that is changed, and we appear to be seeing the same thing twice. It also has to be said that the majority of characters on display are pretty revolting in whatever light they are painted.

It could also be made clearer early on that this is the structure that is going to be followed, and that a hitherto apparently realistic Zoom call is now going to be used to show flashbacks. On this occasion the first of these flashbacks was overshadowed by technical problems that made it less than obvious what was going on.

Vanashree Thapliyal, Caroline Mathison, Gregor McElvogue, Gregor Haddow

Overall, however, the odd glitch did not distract from the sterling efforts of the cast. Caroline Mattison’s Natalya, striving to establish herself in Tinseltown, is suitably self-obsessed and brittle. Gregor Haddow’s coke-snorting oil dealer turned yogi George is similarly lacking in self-awareness in both his iterations. Both characters come across as frighteningly real.

Gregor McElvogue’s slimy control freak is also horribly realistic, the character so lacking in self-knowledge he even believes a screenwriter can be a Hollywood power broker.

The trouble with all of these people is that they are so horribly selfish that it is a strain to stay in their company so long. Something important is undoubtedly being said about the way that adults use children to shore up their own inadequacies, rather than dealing with the needs of the child. However, the lack of variety does begin to grate.

lightness of touch

Vanashree Thapliyal’s PA-cum-student-turned-childminder Tzeporah does at least come across as very different when presented in varying accounts. While it is never fully explained how she came to be in this situation in the first place, at least her character has some development. Richard Lydecker, meanwhile, has a lightness of touch in his portrayal of make-up artist Raphael that is a very welcome contrast to the-self-important pomposity of the others.

Alan Patterson’s character (rejoicing in the name of Amadeus, or- even less feasibly – Amaflopadopadeus) has the unenviable job of keeping the whole thing together as the convenor of the panel. He does this nothing short of brilliantly, with his terse treatment of the other participants and his quick-witted reactions to the audience’s contributions being excellently done. He also manages to skate over a premise and plot which are less than convincing at times.

Productions where the outcome relies on a vote often seem to test the fragility of the democratic process. Something seems to happen to an audience in such circumstances that means they cannot be trusted to decide if it is New York or New Year. Here, the choice is very much of which option is least terrible, which once again may be realistic but is dramatically less satisfactory.

Patterson, and Ross Hope’s direction, do mean that the joins between the various different segments are handled with commendable smoothness, especially considering the cast can never be completely sure what is coming next.

The script and direction are both intriguing enough, and the performances are clever enough to overcome the largely one-note nature of the characters. Some more pruning is undoubtedly necessary to make an interesting concept a truly vital one.

Running time 1 hour 25 minutes including one 5 minute interval

Wednesday 2 – Saturday 5 February 2022.
Daily at 8.00 pm
Details and tickets (£8 with a pay-what-you-can option): Book here

Production Lines Website:
Twitter: @ProductionLines

Caroline Mathison, Gregor Haddow, Vanashree Thapliyal and Richard Lydecker


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