EFFIE STOODLEY: Much of the journey was snappy and expertly put together, but when more seriousness and desperation was called for it broke down and never made its destination

Corpus Dominic Biddle Katherine Message lateshow new writing

Corpus Playrooms, 8th-12th February, 9.30pm, £5-6

Directed by Lowell Belfield and Donald Futers

[rating: 2.5/5]

Verge is, for the most part, a sensitive account of travellers dumped in the middle of nowhere by a long-haul coach. While they wait for another bus to arrive, they have only each other’s company to stave off boredom and, apparently, insanity.

Donald Futers’s new writing, while both fresh and original, lacked any sense of realism. I was initially impressed with the fast-paced, smart, and witty dialogue, but this soon sank into predictable GCSE-esque Theme-ing.

Under the direction of Lowell Belfield and Donald Futers, the interaction between characters was generally believable and natural. Benjamin and Michael (Dominic Biddle and Stephen Bermingham) were instantly likeable, their characters complementing one another well as they bicker and quarrel through their long wait. Bermingham delivered wonderfully subtle and dislikeable sleaze, winning the audience over with sheer creepy confidence.

The faster-paced scenes were well directed; the audience hung on each potent mutter of Benjamin’s advances on Selina (Eleanor Penfold). Katherine Message as bustling, brash, middle-aged Barbara carried her potentially clichéd character with aplomb. Milking her ‘ annoying passenger’ role for all it was worth, Message’s vivacity and comic nerve gave us a sense of  empathy with her fellow-passengers; in the small space of Corpus we were equally incapable of escaping her.

However, the play couldn’t sustain such a charming (if slightly panto) veneer. When more seriousness and desperation was required as the characters’  began to properly develop, it  failed to deliver any real emotion or tension. Tender moments made no lasting impression. Heartfelt admissions rang unsatisfyingly hollow. The entire atmosphere slumped from expectancy to dissatisfaction, giving the distinct and overwhelming sense that the play had suddenly lost all direction.

The script was fluent and convincing for the most part, with characters readily and directly inhabiting their roles. But again, confusion and a sudden sense of shallowness during more woeful moments all but ruined any of the easier won successes. A sequence of oddly-chosen events, including a drunken night, an unwanted lesbian kiss and an irate voicemail message were dramatically plausible, but failed to cohere into a genuine, believable story line.

The peculiar combination of well-produced comic moments and abruptly serious, unbelievable and ungrounded dialogue meant that the denouement – each character coming to terms with their wider personal problems – was wholly undermined. Although Biddle’s Michael was natural and relaxed, giving a nuanced portrayal of his secret neurosis, his final speech undercut the hope and stability he’d been striving for.

This play was, on occasion, snappy and expertly put together. However, an implausible contrast between beautiful, fleeting portrayals of humanity and empty, characterless, even forced, wretchedness meant that Verge was ultimately a disappointment.