Twenty People a Minute

Aug 8 2023 | By More

★★★★★    Triumphant

theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39): Sat 5 – Fri 25 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Politically aware, poetically staged, and displaying understanding of both people and theatre, Twenty People a Minute (from Arthur & Redpath and New Celts at theSpace on the Mile) is nothing short of a triumph.

Samantha Robinson’s new play is set in 2030, where the climate catastrophe has led to economic meltdown and a massive political rightward swing. A group of people who have have become refugees because of who they are – whether a woman or a gay man – find themselves on ‘Waiting Island’, and the story unfolds of how they got there.

Michael Reddington, Benjamin Cheetham, Melissa Ainsworth and Isabella Velarde in Twenty People A Minute. Pic Ryan Buchanan

Such a situation has been explored before, but rarely is it set up so elegantly, or told as carefully and subtly, as it is here. The play obviously has a great deal of relevance to the way refugees are portrayed and dehumanised today, and the production is supporting various refugee and equality charities, but such good intentions would count for little were the production not a success.

Simply to call it a success is to underplay the piece’s impact considerably.

Robinson is obviously a writer fully in command of her craft; there is a clarity, and indeed a poetry, to the text that is exceptionally impressive. Her messages come across starkly without any preaching. There is a real rhythm to the piece, with repetition, elements of chorus and passing of dialogue from one character to another.

Benjamin Cheetham in Twenty People A Minute Pic: Ryan Buchanan

Although there is constant switching of story, and an array of secondary characters, but it never becomes confusing. Humanity is portrayed as complex and unexpected; people can do terrible things, but can also put themselves at risk by doing wonderful things.

The quality of the script is matched by the direction of Tom Mullins, and it would be criminal not to stress his contribution to the overall effect. The staging is fluid, the choral elements are unbelievably sharp, and the use of a couple of long pauses both brave and utterly correct. The ending (so often the stumbling block in dystopia-set plays) is handled perfectly.

There is a directness and a humanity to the performances of Isabella Velarde, Benjamin Cheetham, Michael Reddington and Melissa Ainsworth. Reddington’s fury and desperation as Niles, at a loss to understand how all the hard-won rights of LGBTQIA+ people could be rolled back, is particularly impressive, but all four are excellent.

Melissa Ainsworth in Twenty People A Minute Pic: Ryan Buchanan

Plays set in dystopian futures often become predictable or run out of steam; here, without resorting to tricks, shocks or mystery, the narrative remains fresh. That Cheetham’s character is a deserter from the military is an unexpected ingredient right at the start, and indicates that things are going to be kept fresh.

There are a couple of possible quibbles. Ian Sutherland’s music fits beautifully, but at times the sound design threatens to cross the line from effective to intrusive. The cast play all of the supporting characters with care and impact, but there are a couple of accents that are slightly less convincing than others.

None of this matters in the end, however, when everything adds up to one of the best things I have seen on the Fringe in years.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
theSpace on the Mile, 80 High St, EH1 1TH (Venue 39)
Saturday 5 – Friday 25 August 2023 (odd dates only)
Odd dates only at 12.50 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Arthur & Redpath Productions links:

Facebook: @ArthurRedpathProductions

Instagram: @_ar_productions

Twitter: @_ar_productions

Michael Reddington and Isabella Velardein Twenty People A Minute. Pic Ryan Buchanan



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