Aug 20 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩   Fairly colourful

TheSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36) Sun 3 – Sat 23 August 2014

Seam Theatre’s Spectrum is a diverting and engaging piece featuring a strong central performance, but ultimately the production promises more than it delivers.

Samuel Lennox, Maeve Bell and Dermot Nelson. Photo: Matthew Thomas

Samuel Lennox, Maeve Bell and Dermot Nelson. Photo: Matthew Thomas

The play (presented in association with New Celts) tells the true story of Temple Grandin, a woman with autism whose research into animal behaviour revolutionized US slaughterhouses. Grandin is apparently a best-selling author in the US, but is an obscure figure here. This story does not deal with her later work as a spokesperson for autism, but concentrates on her early life, from her mistaken diagnosis with brain damage as a child to her designs for ‘humane slaughterhouses’ as a postgraduate student.

Maeve Bell, who also wrote the play, is excellent as Temple. She creates a rounded and thoroughly believable character, resisting any temptation to overplay or trivialise. She is helped by some intriguing effects, such as sound designer Jessica Aslan’s disturbing electronic clangour, which mirrors Temple’s discomfort whenever someone attempts physical contact.

remarkable performance

The other members of the cast approach a variety of roles with great energy – Dermot Nelson and Jenna Cowie have considerable comic talent, with Samuel Paris Lennox and James Garvock turning in considered performances. Unfortunately, the concentration on Temple means that none of these characters take on any life of their own, and some exaggerated accents make some of them difficult to take seriously.

This has the unfortunate effect of diminishing Bell’s remarkable performance somewhat, as her character has less impact when deprived of a more convincing milieu, which makes everything less touching and less funny than it might be.

This is not helped by the episodic nature of the play, which is its main drawback. What is essentially a conventional, chronological telling of Temple’s story in Bell’s accomplished script is unnecessarily broken up into a series of discrete scenes. This situation is exacerbated by the use of the stage furniture – a pair of steel cages. These are used very effectively at times, for example as Temple’s ‘hugging machine’ or as sliding doors. However, the temptation to use them in every scene should have been avoided, as it leads to constant delays as they are moved and turned, which becomes tiresome very quickly.

This, like a great deal of the production, shows clear signs of having been ‘devised by the cast’. There is a great deal of imagination on show, but it is not all fully realised and would have benefited from the more considered approach of an outside eye.

This should not detract unduly from the achievements of a versatile and talented company, who are obviously capable of a more fully achieved production.

Running time 1 hour
TheSpace on North Bridge, North Bridge EH1 1SD (Venue 36)
Sun 3 – Sat 23 August 2014 (odd dates only) at 5.15 pm
Tickets at https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/spectrum

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