Communicate

Sun 21st – Mon 29th August 2016

reviews

Maddy Searle

at 20:57 on 21st Aug 2016

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‘Communicate’ is a thoughtful piece of theatre with some real insights into grief and fatherhood. However, subtlety is sometimes lost when dealing with the main message of the play: communication, of course.

Toby Vaughan plays James, a young man who is obsessed with superhero lore and tends to avoid expressing his feelings. Vaughan gives a nuanced performance: his facial expression is constantly changing to indicate his shifting thoughts, and his intentionally awkward, halting delivery perfectly matches his character’s unwillingness to speak about his emotions.

Olivia Elsden plays Heather, James’s girlfriend who quickly becomes pregnant with his child. This character could easily lapse into irritating nagging, but Heather’s distress at James’s lack of self-awareness is not at all annoying – it is completely understandable. However, her many attempts to get James to open up really hammer home the importance of communication, and I feel this could have been achieved more gradually and less forcefully.

Communication is also strained between James and his father, Harry (Gareth Watkins). Harry is still grieving for his wife, James’s mother, who died of a terminal illness. Harry’s unwillingness to change any aspect of his home frustrates James, and brings to light a significant aspect of grief. Watkins portrays Harry’s melancholy reminiscing sensitively, and is also excellent at conveying Harry’s anger at the prospect of moving on. However, Harry’s lines sometimes have an uneven tone, suddenly swerving from terse to needlessly verbose. For instance, in an argument with James, he sarcastically calls his pens “ink-fuelled instruments of capture”.

The set for this production is very simple: a classic black box theatre with only four plywood crates for furniture. This proves to be a versatile set, with the crates being used as seats, boxes, a car, and other objects. Costume is also used cleverly at the start of the play, as James lies behind the crates dressed as Spiderman, instantly grabbing the audience’s attention and pulling them into the world of the play.

In general, this play is well put-together, well acted and explores interesting issues of family and adulthood. Despite a few minor gripes, it is a solid theatrical effort which can be enjoyed by anyone who has experienced loss or love.

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Nina Klaff

at 10:21 on 22nd Aug 2016

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This is a boy-meets-woman story in which Heather (Olivia Elsden), your average modern thirty-something in want of a child, tries to tame James (Toby Vaughan) away from his childhood chasing à la Peter Pan, and into family life. Elsden’s nerves upon entering are obvious, but her delivery doesn’t suffer: crystal-clear voice and accurate intonation, the only distraction comes in the form of her costume: combined with a pair of jeans and a plain t-shirt, her huge green necklace looks out of place. Vaughan is compelling, too, but while their individual performances are praiseworthy, their chemistry is lacklustre: their signs of affection are feeble, their arguments gratuitous, and their love unconvincing. Gareth Watkins is endearing as James’ dad. His acting career visibly still in its infancy, he is confident and composed as his controlling character permeates his son’s life.

The stage design is inventive: using boxes to transform the small stage into anything from bedroom to car to crib is ingenious, but their plain, pine colour leaves something to be desired. Touches such as Heather’s baby bump are unexpectedly sweet, and I cannot fault the soundtrack for the scene transitions - one can never go wrong with Tame Impala and James Blake in my opinion, but the play left me as unfulfilled as Heather and James’ content-ever-after did for them.

Some elements may be lost on spectators who did not grow up going to Butlins, but tonight’s crowd graces the idea that James’ parents honeymooned in Guernsey with a laugh. Other comedic attempts are not received so well, such as the line, “epic win bro, ‘grats,” which was more excruciating than that time George Bush tried to open a locked door. This embarrassment is about as stimulating as the play gets. It is neither bad enough to rage about, nor good enough to rave about.

Magic realism is usually at home in the quotidian, but this feature of the play is lost on some audience members. Harry’s role is so unclear that I overheard someone next to me saying that significant plot elements had only been made clear to them following a friend's explanation after the show. I am all for ambiguity, but I somehow doubt that writer Jeremy Fletcher intends for the crux of his show to be lost entirely. It is, after all, called 'Communicate'.

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