Review: Broken Arrow Productions' 'Still Life – A Double Bill'
Broken Arrow Productions have once again shown the huge potential of Southampton as a hub for small scale, independent theatrical projects. In their second offering as a company, they […]
Broken Arrow Productions have once again shown the huge potential of Southampton as a hub for small scale, independent theatrical projects. In their second offering as a company, they have put together a fitting showcase for the huge amount of talent available. Still Life: A Double Bill is made up of two short original pieces: Alexander Curtis’ Closing Time and James Forster’s Tar. Both pieces focussed upon the inescapable cycles people find themselves in, though this was portrayed in hugely different ways.
In Closing Time, the audience are presented with an other-worldly café in which the same day is lived out over and over eternally. The café is populated by a series of larger than life characters , all of whom were well acted by the incredibly strong cast. The play mainly focuses upon the “Stranger” (Mike Cottrell), a character whose existence in the café perturbs and agitates the other characters as he is “not meant to be there” (whether he is actually a new introduction to the cycle is never overtly clear). The Stranger’s interactions with the other characters make up the bulk of the play, however, Curtis also attempts to find space for long rambling monologues for all of the actors and a short movement piece. The play only runs for fifty minutes and therefore these attempts at verbosity leave very little room for the characters themselves. All character development seems rushed or occurs whilst the character is off-stage; they enter in one state and exit unchanged but the next time you see them they are suddenly and inexplicably changed. The prime example of this is Sarah Divall’s Waitress, who changes from a bubbly, young girl, to a stronger, harder woman but we see nothing on stage to warrant this transformation.
This said, the concept was strong and I consistently felt that if it had been extended and the bulky text had been pruned to make way for the characters to develop, the play could have been beautiful. Moments shone through when Curtis’ text became lyrical rather than opaque and it was at these points that the actors really shone. Divall’s Waitress and Cottrell’s Stranger were the main beneficiaries of these sections and their conversations were a breath of fresh air. Divall’s descriptions of a beach she had once seen were well weighted; perfectly balancing sentiment, humour, strength and naivety. The movement piece could have been equally beautiful, as Lucy Hughes provided a near-flawless performance as the beaten-down terrified waitress, planning her awakening, only to have it wrested from her hands. However, its resonance suffered, as we had seen almost nothing from the character the whole way through and therefore had no emotional connection with her narrative. These bright sections struggled to shine through the dense text but did show the huge potential in both the quality of Curtis’ writing and the concept itself.
Closing Time sometimes lost its characters through the density of the writing; Tar on the other hand revelled in the depth of its two protagonists. It tells the story of Stitch (Joseph Curran), a hardened addict who has found himself looking after the child-like but loveable Gaz (Alexander Curtis) until he gets the council flat that he has applied for. They spend their time begging in order to achieve their next “score”, Gaz earning the money with his young charm, whilst Stitch keeps him safe and sources the next hit. When they get on the wrong side of a new dealer named Tiger, (Amy Fitzgibbon providing a captivating, measured performance, replete with flawless Scottish accent), Stitch must decide how to protect Gaz from her revenge, whilst also trying to keep Gaz from getting clean and leaving him alone.
Plays on the theme of addiction and drugs often find themselves caught up in attempting to push some sort of moral argument or to delve into the gritty world of drug culture. However, in Tar the addiction and drug deals are merely the setting in which Gaz and Stitch’s relationship exists, and it is the scenes involving just the two of them that really shine. Curtis achieves Gaz’s childish naivety with such breathless ease that it is impossible to take your eyes off him, and his reaction to being told he hadn’t got his flat felt so honest that it was almost heart-breaking. Curran’s performance was equally compelling, giving a nuanced, emotional performance of an extremely complex character. He also completely altered his physicality to convey the emotional and physical damage of his addiction.
There were very few issues with the play as a whole, however, the more minor characters often felt under-developed. They appeared to be plot devices and therefore became jarring when placed next to the highly developed and nuanced Stitch and Gaz. The ending could also be seen to spell things out a little too much for the audience; it would have been nice to leave a bit of Stitch’s enigma intact. These aside Tar was captivating, fast paced and beautiful and kept the audience in the palm of its hand throughout.
Watching both of these shows, I had to keep reminding myself that this was an amateur production, such was the professionalism of all involved. From the XWWX studios in which it was performed, to the marketing campaign instigated prior to the run, they have shown huge amounts of creativity and business skill. I have no doubt that if they run every project with the same high standards; they will achieve a large following and continued success.