Interesting concept needing slightly more polish
Coming in from the cold on the last day of the dreaded Week 5, I was at once submerged into the cosy dressing room set of Parisienne. The scantily dressed Ashley, glass in hand, looks at photos from her past. Through these photographs she traces the exact moments that have shaped her existence. Fed into this we are given a glimpse into an alternate version of her life.
What could have happened if she went to Paris? What would have happened if she chose university over drama school? What might have happened if she hadn’t answered the phone?
The play ended with the meeting of the two versions of Ashley and showed that while experience can alter outward appearance, life ultimately remains the same no matter the choices you make. They still drifted away from childhood friends and they were still hurt by the same boy. As the audience, we are allowed to choose our own ending. Whether it is happy or not is up to us.
Though it dealt with these thought-provoking, philosophical themes of choice and destiny, the quality of the acting varied. The adult Ashley looking back was the glue which held the play together. Zoe Belcher’s performance was convincing and conveyed an underlying grief within the character. Ashley’s sixth form friends also, to various degrees of success, portrayed the uncomfortable closeness often pervasive in school friendships. The brother, Ollie, added some comic value but the whole family dynamic felt awkward and reflected none of the familiarity necessary to evoke real sympathy for the characters.
The set transported the audience to the dressing rooms of Old Hollywood, complete with lights around the mirror and a vintage screen. Care was even given to details such as the half-used bottle of foundation on the vanity. However, this created an unsettling incongruity with the 21st century content. When the characters in the flashbacks suddenly whipped out iPhones it was jarring. It also seemed strange that the young Ashley was talking to her friend on an outdated landline when her younger brother sat next to her texting. Whilst this could have been deliberate, it might have been more consistent or perhaps more overt in order to be convincingly effective. The timeline of the narrative was made particularly confusing as the flashbacks appeared to be in a more modern era than the present-day Ashley looking back.
The photographs that prompted Ashley’s reflection were a clever device and conveyed the nostalgia of looking back on those moments that have been fixed forever. It was an effective way to transition into flashbacks and link the action with physical props within the set. However, this device was not followed throughout. We were shown one or two tableaux, but the significance of the photographs dwindled quickly. It started to feel as though Ashley was just plucking random events from her life rather than having an emotional response to photographs on her dresser.
Although the ending lacked a significant power it still had a poignant effect. Asking the audience to choose an ending allowed us to become involved in the narrative.
Parisienne was not entirely worth the long cold cycle ride but it did engage with some interesting, meaningful ideas.