Monday, July 13, 2009

Eight at Trafalgar Studios

There’s an interactive element to Ella Hickson’s Eight. As audience members arrive at the theatre, they are directed towards a touch-screen monitor near the box office. There they can read through the synopses of eight possible monologues and vote for the four they would like to see most. People like to vote for things, we like to have a choice or the illusion of choice, and so only the four most popular will be performed, though all eight actors remain on stage throughout the evening as a reminder that choice is as much about what is excluded as what is included, and that for the four monologues we do see there will be four that we don't. (Interestingly, during its New York run, all eight monologues were performed nightly, changing the concept of the show entirely).

Those that were performed on the night I attended were all solidly acted, particularly by Simon Ginty as the teenage Jude, despatched to an overseas language school by his father and told to "return a man." There he develops an increasingly intense passion for his middle-aged French landlady and loses himslef in thoughts o perfume and lingerie. It's the lesser of the four selected pieces but his performance sells it. Solomon Mousley is also compelling in the most memorable piece of the night, as Miles, a young American Merrill Lynch exec who "won everything he touched" and whose life was derailed by the 7/7 attacks.

While there’s no denying that Hickson is a skilled writer, some of the pieces were far stronger than others and the simple presentation of these character sketches was rather straightforward in comparison with the unusual set-up (however, I now gather there are meant to be some projections that were not used on the night I went). The notion of choice and chance is tied most overtly with Miles’ narrative, but the inclusion of some of the other pieces felt rather arbitrary, despite Hickson's assertion that the characters are all somehow representative of a generation, "showing the effects, when taken to extremes, of growing up in a world in which the central value system is based on an ethic of commercial, aesthetic and sexual excess."

Another monologue concerns Holly McLay's Bobby, a single mum with two young children who gets fired from Tesco in the run up to Christmas. She gets a new job with a wealthy, elderly woman, helping her to prepare for the coming festivities and becomes entranced by the woman's life - with the rich, Christmas smell of her kitchen as they prepare puddings - and also frustrated by what she sees, by the things and the life that she will in all likelihood never possess. The gap between her life and this woman's life - and the impossibility of bridging it - is just too big and Bobby's frustation spills out of her in a sudden expletive-flecked flow.

The final piece of the four concerned Gwendolen von Einsiedel's Astrid, a woman returning to her lover's bed in the middle of the night after a liaison with another man. Both these pieces feel like they are scratching at the skin of something true and honest, but there is not room to dig deeper, to explore more, and the Christmas setting of the former piece feels a little obvious.

The very nature of the production means that each performance will be different and it seems likely that on another night the sense of disjointedness I felt may not have been so strong. But, all the same, there is something a bit anticlimactic about the show after the novelty of its opening gambit.

Extended version of a review that appeared in The Stage.

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