Caravan

Tue 18th – Sat 22nd October 2016

reviews

Clara Collingwood

at 09:58 on 19th Oct 2016

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The ‘bleak lives of other people’ is a premise well trodden on the ADC boards. Whether inspired by macabre fascination or a stunted attempt at social justice, the result is often at best dull, and at worst offensive. ‘Caravan’ portrays the effects of a financial situation as static as the vehicle in which the events unfold. It follows the sisters Kim and Kelly’s pursuit of self-worth in a world where jobs are increasingly insecure and horizons barely exceed the walls of a caravan. This could easily make for mindlessly traumatic entertainment. The fact that the play is very much worth going to see is credit only to the masterful production and performance.

Caravan opens with the rape of a fifteen year old girl, seen through the window of the caravan. Realism has been wrung out for all its worth, and so such horrendous scenes could seem nothing but vulgar to a contemporary audience perhaps growing aware of their morbid tendencies. However, in forcing an audience to peer through a window the voyeuristic nature of 'gritty drama’ is addressed head on. Ruth Harvey’s lighting continues in the same vein, the sofa in which the rape takes place is lit throughout the play.

Harry Stockwell’s thoughtful rendering of the cramped caravan interior, in which the majority of action takes place, embroils the audience in an immersive and uneasy experience. The initial enjoyment in witnessing an awkward and candid flirtation quickly subsides in to shock and discomfort. Before long the walls of the caravan are thrust away, and with them go the comfortable distinctions between audience and subject. This careful set manipulation provides an accurate visual metaphor for the violation of boundaries throughout the play, whether they be the social boundaries between sex and family or the picket lines of a nearby dockyard.

The subtle portrayal of Kim by Sophie Taylor gives warmth to what could easily be a one dimensional character. Kim’s brash likeability slowly fades in the second act; what was an endearing, childish irreverence becomes downright contempt, and Taylor judges this beautifully. Tom Chamberlain’s Bruce, a striking dock worker in both senses of the term, is similarly captivating and, like Taylor, gives off genuine affability in his early scenes. When the two are finally alone on stage their timing could hardly be better and we are treated to a truly funny scene. Although on the opening night there were a few mistakes in the dialogue, it seems a small price to pay for such pace and wit, performed mostly in convincing accents.

The dialogue-driven script is in fact well handled by all the actors, and even the slightly less nuanced performance of Mick seems to be a genuine directional choice. This is a choice which pays off as attention is focused on the three women; critical in a play about financial and emotional interdependence.

The bleak events of the play are handled tactfully and humourously; not once are the issues generalised or pronounced upon. There is however a slightly unfortunate projection of ‘contemporary affairs’ across the set after the interval. Rather than locating the drama with in a specific time frame this just adds to any niggling suspicions harboured by the audience, that this may after all be a naïve attempt at tackling the big issues of ‘poverty’, ‘unemployment’ and ‘abuse’.

In actual fact, the ‘othering’ of tragic protagonists typical in such drama is skilfully avoided in ‘Caravan’. Such is the level of audience engagement that by the end we resign ourselves to sharing Kim’s satisfaction in an otherwise wholly dissatisfying resolution.

The play closes with the line ‘I can’t imagine life without this place’ and by this point the audience has forgotten most of the world outside the caravan too. ‘Caravan’ is a piece of enjoyable and worthy theatre; the changing dynamic between audience and stage pushes theatre to the extremes of taste, and viewers to the extremes of sympathy.

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