Folding Chair

A play that takes risks, but fails to make much of the emotional material by which it was inspired, writes CATHERINE ELLISTON.

folding chair Pembroke New Cellars

Pembroke New Cellars, 9.30pm, Tue19th – Sat 23rd February, £5

written and directed by Connie Harper

Basing a play on a song is always a risky move. And risks are great and exciting and brave and admirable, but – you know what’s coming – they don’t always pay off. This ambitious piece of new writing too often fell into the trap of relying heavily on Regina Spektor’s song without giving anywhere near enough substance to the already hazy plot line.

My friend dubbed it a ‘40 minute long John Lewis advert that is presented to you with repeated blows to the head from the hammer of symbolism’. Throw in a snowman and the comparison is painfully accurate.

But everyone loves a good John Lewis advert, I hear you say.

And the set looked so promising as well. Waves were emulated with items of fabric, linking nicely with the washing-line backdrop. A bit twee maybe, but inoffensively so. There were also some nice uses of sounds and rhythm with clicking and clapping (subtle background noise, not Glee-esque) and some solid a cappella singing.

I’m not sure that it would be an exaggeration to say that the play was 80% silence. Sometimes they were verging on poignant, but mostly they were agonisingly stretched out, punctuated by awkward sniffs from that audience member who is probably also that annoying girl with a permanent cold who always sits behind you in the library. This meant that there was a kind of uncomfortable almost-intensity which tended to peter out into dullness. The climactic scene lost all its force. Hysterical shouting, which was in no way built up to, went from the convincing and emotional to the absurd.

Full credit must go to the cast who worked well with what they were given. There were some very strong performances which were limited by the snatches of dialogue. And it really takes remarkable concentration to sit in a chair, in silence, maintaining a facial expression that communicates pain, tiredness and resignation – though as an audience member it came naturally enough.

Folding Chair certainly has moments of promise. That said, there was a fundamental emptiness at the heart of this piece. It reveals itself it to be more an awkward spanner than a hammer of emotion. Without fleshing out the source of its inspiration, this John Lewis dystopia of ill-realised emotion becomes more uncomfortable than profound.