Dirt

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

Madeleine Stottor

at 09:15 on 14th Aug 2011

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‘This is going to be great, this is going to be hilarious’: as opening lines go, these are pretty bold. Delivered in verse by two worms threatening to eat our brains, this first speech sets the tone for the rest of ‘Dirt’. It is a fascinating, innovative, odd play, which falls only just short of real brilliance.

‘Dirt’ opens on the romantic getaway from hell, as two-week-couple Ada and Martin struggle to get to know each other in the New Forest. Ada has travelled from Australia to be there, and is grieving for her son Tom, who recently died in an accident. Strange noises develop into even stranger creatures, as Ada’s dead mother appears and Tom seemingly digs his way up from Australia. It is a play ‘about facing up to love, loss, and the afterlife’, and the choices we make about moving on.

The staging and performances of ‘Dirt’ are incredible. The puppetry used (for Ada’s mother’s various animalistic reincarnations) is brilliant, made all the more effective by an otherwise pared down set. Natalie Fay Lewis’ decisions regarding set, props, and costumes are flawless, and make ‘Dirt’ a surreal and scary spectacle. Tight direction and a consistently skilful cast make the production engaging and feel professional. Sam Wilson’s childlike mannerisms as Tom are convincing, and never slip, and his slight Australian accent is appropriate for a child born in Oz but raised by an English mother. The best performances are from Joby Mageean and Laura Marston, who play Martin and Ada’s mother respectively, as well as two worms. Martin’s awkward geekery and horrified reactions to Ada’s apparent disrespect for nature never feel overdone, but are pitched faultlessly. What made Marston so impressive is her absolute engagement with her roles and props. Using different puppets each time she appears as Mother, she never takes her eyes from the puppet, acting through and really utilising it.

When the mother first speaks to Martin, she tries to cut short his hysterics by saying ‘Don’t be so predictable, there isn’t time’, and ‘Dirt’ itself suffers similarly from a lack of time. It is by no means predictable, and the script is, at times, brilliant, by turns beautiful, surreal, tragic, and comic. But ‘Dirt’ might benefit from a longer time slot than is allowed it here at the Fringe. The ending, where Ada is forced to make a huge, huge choice, feels rushed, and I don’t think I was the only audience member who hadn’t quite realised the show was over. What should be an emotional climax is cut short.

‘Dirt’ might not be perfect, but it is certainly worth seeing. Nathan Wood’s script is honest and clever, and Laura Marston’s performance alone would justify the ticket price. It is the latest production from ‘Aireborne Theatre’, a company comprised on students and graduates from Leeds, and the group’s youth make their innovative achievement all the more exciting. The only thing keeping ‘Dirt’ from a 5* review is a feeling that it held back slightly, cut itself short – it was wild, but not quite wild enough.

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sophie ainscough

at 10:36 on 14th Aug 2011

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Plunged into darkness, the audience is introduced to the story of Dirt (which, we are warned, has all been arranged) by a pair of torch wearing worms. When you eat enough brains you start getting ideas, and this is certainly true for this original play, which envelopes the audience in its underground world through the close proximity of props, a pigeon, balloons, and birthday brain tasting.

Orchestrated from below the earth’s surface, we watch as Ada, Dani Mosimann, begins her camping holiday in the New Forest with Martin, Joby Mageean. Boundaries are blurred between the living and dead, those above and below ground, as Ada is confronted by her dead mother in various animal incarnations, from earwig to skeletal puppet, brilliantly performed by Laura Marston. Sam Wilson gives a convincing performance as mud splattered Tom, whose childish requests for Ada to see his tunnel become something more sinister. The stage is split between the world of the dead and living, traversable by the fabric backdrop of tent and trees.

Although nerves initially affect the believability of her performance, Dani Mosimann quickly settles into her role, working well with Joby Mageean, who proves comically engaging as a sweet, if stereotypically gawky, wildlife enthusiast. Ada’s initially seemingly animal directed aggression is a source of much horror and bewilderment for Martin, forced to wonder whether you can really know and love someone when their past is left unexplored. His absolute oblivious delight as a pigeon lands on his head brilliantly counters Ada’s edginess, her antagonistic attitude towards her mother’s reappearance something which would benefit from further exploration. Maternal feeling seems fickle in this play, felt only across the severing boundaries of life and death, and the deliverance of the mother’s message is something her defensive manner and whining tone would seem in any case to prevent. Poor Martin repeatedly offends a distracted Ada, prompting continual notes to self in an endearing, if misguided, effort at self improvement.

Dirt deals with death, loss and the prospect of new beginnings, both for parents and offspring. Whether these will be fulfilled - be it the promise of heaven after death or a new life of love - is another matter.

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