Pronoun

Tue 7th – Sat 11th June 2016

reviews

Cameron Wallis

at 01:02 on 8th Jun 2016

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Pronoun, the main show at the Corpus Playroom, intriguingly explores issues of gender, sexuality and family. Whilst this particular production does not entirely do Evan Placey’s script justice, elements of the show are enjoyable and certain actors’ performances are particularly good.

In this production almost every single actor has an opportunity to wear both conventionally female and conventionally male clothing. This is in itself interesting, and at points fairly amusing, for example, when the groom tries on the wedding dress before the ceremony to check how easy it is to lift the veil. It also draws attention to the fluidity of gender, like when the actors Joe Pieri and Julia Xavier Stier, playing the husband Kyle and wife Amy, switch outfits part way through. By using cross-dressing in this way the play attempts to blur the bipartite division between male and female genders. However, it is does not entirely work in this Corpus production for a number of reasons.

Each actors’ own sex shines through too strongly to make the divide blurry enough, including in the lead actress Franky Sissons’ mostly great performance as Dean. It might perhaps have been more effective with neutral clothing, especially in the cases of the mother and the father. I was not entirely convinced that the shedding of a tie and the putting on of an apron, or switching from beer to red wine, completely constituted a gender or character swap, and though it is clear that the director Sophie Leydon did not want to waste time with a long changing of outfits on stage, with more creativity here this scene could have been much more effective.

Leydon does not shy away from using changes of clothing at other points in the play, particularly using them in the transitions between scenes, however at these times it often seems a bit clumsy. Furthermore, the transitioning music between scenes is a bit out of place, a little too light-hearted for a play that is rarely funny: though the teacher scenes are hilarious, Carine Valarche and Kathryn Cussons proving a great duo. But generally, the play takes too long to move from scene to scene, the moving of chairs and tables understandable, the moving of books and candles a tad superfluous.

Jerome Burelbach makes a superb James Dean: an affable, macho fairy godmother character to Dean. Franky Sissons has also clearly put a lot of work into her role as Dean, though she still seems problematically feminine in her role. For example, in the scenes in which Dean imagines James Dean instructing him on how to be more masculine, Sissons could have gone a little more over-the-top in the way she sits. Again, perhaps the director Leydon could have lingered over parts of this scene more, and saved time elsewhere in the show by smoothing out the transitions.

Jamie P. Robson performs a likeable Josh, though he takes a while to warm into the role. Especially at the beginning his lines are delivered at a rocket pace, the intonation lost with the speed with which he spits his words out, though his character, overall, remains convincing. Before Josh kisses Dean, the actors might have savoured the pause for more dramatic effect, slowing down the moments before the kiss with some passionate eye-contact: the relationship as a whole is less convincing because they do not seem so desperately in love as their rhetoric suggests.

Overall, the play is perfectly enjoyable, though it does sort of bash the reader over the head with its angry message that tolerance is just not good enough. Whilst of course we sympathise with Dean, who is surrounded by people unwilling, or simply unable, to understand his position, we also cannot help but feel a little sorry for his friends, family and teachers who all evidently wish him well and want to show their support and continued love for him, but are uncertain how best to express their acceptance. In its attempt to be very up-to-date and trendy, Pronoun comes on quite strong. Lots of work has clearly gone into this particular production, though a little more creativity, a little more inventiveness, from the director and actors would not have gone amiss in improving the show, by making it less aggressively polemical. It all comes across as a bit angry at the world, even though the ending is sort of happy.

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