Review – Lifting the Mask

Aug 13 2013 | By More

✭✩✩✩✩  Box-ticking politics

Christopher Walster, Chanelle Shea-Calvin and Rishaad Moudden in Lifting the Mask. Photo © PromisKus Theatre

Christopher Walster, Chanelle Shea-Calvin and Rishaad Moudden in Lifting the Mask. Photo © PromisKus Theatre

theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39)
Sun 4 – Sat 24 August 2013 (even days)
Review by Mark Bolsover

Life in as a sex-trade worker and a travel monologue are pushed together in this underachieving new co-production between New Celts Productions and PromisKus Theatre.

Craig, a student journalist, interviews Amy, an escort, about her life in the sex trade in a train station café. Meanwhile Farid, another student, tells the story of his travels through Africa. The two narratives eventually collide in the play’s conclusion.

Confused and confusing, Cameron Forbes’ new play tries a little too hard to be shocking and politically relevant. Real character development, which would have lent the piece substance, is sacrificed to a series of box-ticking, stereotyped figures and over-baked dialogue, which ultimately asks too much of its young cast.

The play is split. On one side there is naturalistic dialogue between Christopher Walster’s Craig and Chanelle Shea-Calvin’s Amy. On the other a first person narration fails to settle its obvious issues with its slightly jarring, fourth-wall breaking audience interaction and a clumsy veering between tenses.

It feels as though Craig’s interview of Amy is intended only to provide an excuse for sexually candid and explicit dialogue with an obligatory, and cursory, investigation of gender and sexual politics. No context is given for the interview or for its location. It is unclear how the relationship between the two characters is meant to be developing and the strange and slightly implausible emotional openness they are clearly meant to have achieved by the end of the play does not quite fit, either with the timeframe or the nature of their meeting.

Sparseness of context

Whilst Walster does well as the bumbling and awkward Craig, garnering the only laughs in the play, but director Iain Davie does not bring out enough maturity from Shea-Calvin to pull off Amy’s brazenness and world-weariness. Though she fares much better in her roles in the Africa-based narrative, Davie has her deliver Amy’s lines in an awkward and unconvincing lilting tone that is clearly meant to be condescending amusement.

The dialogue in these sequences of the play is overworked, as is the affected poetic prose of the first person narrative. The real problems with the play develop from the latter. The very scant detail (it is never really clear exactly where the character is, or why) raises issues of why in particular Forbes has taken it upon himself to represent the plight of oppressed minorities. Though, again, who these minorities actually are, and their connection to international terrorism and/or the sex trade is never quite clear.

The sparseness of context and detail ultimately reduces the figures drifting in and out of the Africa narrative to confusing stereotypes – Walster’s performances in the Africa narrative are particularly unsettling in this respect.

It never becomes clear why these two elements have been paired together, other than that both terrorism and the sex trade are international and bad in some way. While there is some clear potential in aspects of the performances, ultimately the piece’s affectations to intellectual and political maturity are betrayed by its somewhat glib and superficial appropriation of racial, political and sexual issues and the play ends up coming across as slightly patronising.

Running time 1hr
Sun 4 – Sat 24 August 2013
Even days only, 2.30pm.
theSpace on the Mile, 80 High Street, EH1 1TH
Tickets from:


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