Recent Tragic Events

Sun 19th – Fri 24th August 2012

reviews

Laura Peatman

at 01:03 on 20th Aug 2012

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The aftermath of 9/11, philosophies of free will and determinism, seemingly random puppetry, and a pinch of metatheatrical messing: Craig Wright’s 2002 work ‘Recent Tragic Events’ certainly doesn’t give its cast an easy ride. There’s a lot going on here – almost too much, so that this choice of play never allows the troupe from the University of Hamburg to settle completely comfortably into the production. There’s nothing wrong with oscillating scripts – contrasts and shifts in tone can create exciting and dynamic performances – but in this case it all feels a little confused and somewhat dilutes the actors’ emotional credibility.

The piece follows a blind date between Waverly (Henrike Holtz) and Andrew (Nicholas Taylor) as they face the potential personal consequences of the attack on the World Trade Center (or, “The Thing”, as it is most commonly referred to). If I were being somewhat cynical, I might say that the two leads start off rather uncomfortably but warm up and settled into their roles as the show progresses: if I’m going to be more generous, I’ll say that they portray the awkwardness of a first meeting and the subsequent development of their relationship convincingly. The arrival of Ryan-David Stark as neighbour Ron is a breath of fresh air, bringing his natural stage presence and easy humour to the scene. This trio work well as an ensemble, particularly Taylor and Stark whose contrasting roles play off each other nicely.

With the addition of Ron’s ‘friend’ Nancy (Charlotte Poth) and Waverly’s great aunt Joyce Carol Oates (a ‘fictional’ author, we are told, who happens to have the same name as the real-life author…) the evening descends into drinking games and inebriated philosophising. So far, so unremarkable you might think. But this work holds many oddities: the two most obvious being the interjections of the ‘stage manager’ (David Rothmaier) – including a coin-toss to determine which version of the play we will watch – and the fact that Oates is a sock-puppet. The as-yet-silent figure of Nancy also becomes the controller of this new arrival, single-handedly (literally) playing both roles. To some extent this further highlights the discussions of fatalism and human freedom within the dialogue: to what extent is life scripted for us? Are we all puppets? Yet the execution of these elements becomes not only confusing but rather uninspiring; rather than fitting seamlessly into the flow of the piece, or else creating a forceful clashing effect, the pace of the show is slowed too much by the stage manager’s deliberations, and Poth’s manipulation and vocalisation of the puppet begins to grate. The production does not seem entirely sure of itself when faced with these challenges and it is not tight enough to remain fully intact with these quirks to negotiate.

Nevertheless I couldn’t help but be impressed by the cast in general, particularly considering that English is not their first language: the diction was always clear and humour was nicely conveyed. The producer informed me before the show that they believe this is the UK première of this play: it is certainly an unusual work and credit should be given for tackling it with such confidence, even if it does not always quite hit the mark.

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Thomas Brada

at 11:18 on 20th Aug 2012

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The mildly hysterical Waverley Wilson and the straight-laced but 'goofy' Andrew, have organised a blind date for one of the least sexy days in history. The titular, 'Recent Tragic Events', refers to the still-quite-recent attacks of 9/11 and Andrew and Waverley have unfortunately organised their rendezvous for the day after these initial events. The unsexy situation is exacerbated by the coinciding disappearance of Waverley's twin sister and the appearance of the socially tactless Ron from 'down the hall.' Everything in Waverley's flat prevents the audience and the characters from forgetting about the ongoing historical events; the symbolic tv broadcasting the action throughout at centre stage, the teetering piles of books to the side of the stage, and particularly the telephone, which is equally as disturbing when it is silent as when it is ringing.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances, it appears that Andrew and Waverley may in fact have a genuine affinity. But their romance is not the key issue which the play seeks to address. The play principally concerns itself with the absolute randomness of existence and the manner in which the tiniest of incidents can shape our entire being. This complex philosophical point is addressed from the start of the play as the 'stage hand' announces in Pirandello-esque style that a coin will be flipped and all the actors' ensuing actions will be unknowingly but indubitably affected by this mundane flip. This point is obviously a laboured metaphor, but is developed with more substance as the play goes on. The most interesting philosophical debate occurs when the ever-outspoken Ron comes into conflict with a sock puppet representation of the author Joyce Carol Oates. Following a well choreographed drinking game the conversation escalates into a heated debate over the nature of existence; whether the randomness of life indicates that we are ultimately free or whether we are all just plodding through an entirely dictated existence. The play is hesitant to offer any conclusions and I was personally hesitant to hedge my bets with either the obnoxious (emphasis on the noxious) Ron or a literary sockpuppet. Either way, the production had me thinking.

It was clear from the start of the play that it was the opening performance, yet the actors progressively settle into their parts. Nicholas Taylor portrays Andrew with just the right Hugh Grant amount of charmingly-befuddled, while Henrike Holtz and Charlotte Poth lend the play a significant dose of the surreal with their respective personalities conveying manic hyper-activity and even more disturbing silence. It is Ron however, played by Ryan-David Stark, who begins nervously but grows into significant stature by the end. He is simultaneously buffoonish but sage, at one point insulting Andrew's wine to his face, the next offering the perfect advice to a worried twin sister.

Slightly clumsy set changes and nervous performances inhibit the play's potential, but I am sure it will build up momentum throughout its run and will continue to grow as a powerful piece of theatre.

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