One Under

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2011


Imogen Sarre

at 17:13 on 7th Aug 2011



Slick, innovative and funny, this play’s opening promised great things. A devised piece based on people’s thoughts on the London Underground, the crew’s interviews with random passengers on the tube in March 2011 were replayed via voice recordings, with the actors miming a variety of interviewees’ parts. Their perfect timing was incredibly professional and was complemented by a very real engagement with the sound of the voices being mimicked, each actor creating a set of very real personas that managed to be both wonderfully realistic and dramatically stylised.

Having been spell-bound by the way 'One Under' had been set up, it did briefly disappoint as it moved onto the main body of the piece. As the actors sat down on the makeshift tube carriage and adopted individual characters (retained for the rest of the piece), the previously perfectly worked balance between stylisation and naturalism began to slip a bit: at times, the characterisation seemed a tad forced and exaggerated, and the accompanying stylised movements a bit random. However, as the play progressed and the characters’ revelations shifted from superficial one liners to more meaningful monologues, the clear acting ability of all the cast members shone through in a way that perhaps hadn’t been so obvious in their initial confessions.

Both Phoebe Eclair-Powell and Katie Carpenter provided much of the humour of this piece, with strong personalities that kept the play dynamic and interesting. Rosy Banham’s more measured performance provided a nice antidote to this: she was particularly impressive when tenderly re-enacting a fantasy relationship she had constructed while on the tube opposite a good looking stranger. This led perfectly to the climax of the piece: Matt Gavan’s enthralling monologue about his blissfully happy relationship with his wife until she got vascular dementure. Having seemed the weakest member of a very strong cast until this moment, Gavan then exceeded expectations. He employed an unsentimental approach that somehow enhanced the pathos of the moment, bringing tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. He dealt with a pretty tricky speech with consummate ease and, impressively, without recourse to standard formulaic techniques to encourage audience sympathy. The subtle presences on stage, Gavan and Banham inhabited their characters more completely, but Eclair-Powell and Carpenter’s sparky relationships with each other and their men were needed to enhance and bring into sharper contrast the piece’s subtleties.

I came out of this devised drama feeling that it had been superbly structured. My interest was retained to the end; there was an impressive sense of plot progression; and the conclusion that followed Gavan’s climactic speech seemed exactly the right ending to have. I felt that, just as the characters had become more intimate through their shared experience on the tube, so the audience members had become involved in their journey, leaving with an affection for this disparate group of individuals that did not rely on how likeable the characters actually were. The polish of the piece was quite remarkable, the use of sound and movement complementing the action at all times - this is a play that is both beautifully acted and directed.

Having waxed lyrical about it for the last 500 words, my star rating may seem confusing. The beginning and ending of the piece were definitely worthy of 5 stars, but the middle didn’t have quite the same outstanding quality. I did, however, find the whole of this very striking performance extremely enjoyable, and I would recommend it to anyone as a play that surely must be in the upper end of devised Fringe drama.


Fen Greatley

at 08:17 on 8th Aug 2011



Isolating, reflective music plays as people who look like they hate the Tube and their whole lives sit, self-absorbed, silent. The only noise or communication we encounter is a series of genuine vox pops taken by the cast of this devised piece over the last year while travelling underground. From this we realise that people do care about things, are very rarely impartial, and are always thinking about something. It's just that nobody ever asks or wants to listen - we're all imprisoned by our own self-imposed social etiquette.

Context established, four distinct voices of varying socioeconomical and demographical standing are developed, characters whose streams of consciousness are related to us, but not to one another.

The Tube, doubtless a metaphor for life's unpredictable journey, becomes a physical, adaptable environment, a stage for the projection of the voices' mindscapes. We see progression from streams of consciousness to memories (some very subjective), to fantasies and dreams, all through each individual lens. The piece flits from Realism to Naturalism. We're kept at arm's length, let in to share the most intimate details, truth mounting on the stroke of a wing, and then shut out again – the piece is inwards and outwards looking.

What's clever is that there are certain points where real-time, external events in the proceedings provoke the same reactions from each character, such as during the delays, frightening turbulence and eventual announcement of a body under the train. These reactions are mostly of pity and fear.

Various unifying human attributes are shown by each character within their monologues, too: there is a preoccupation with the mundane details of anecdotes as the character, after briefly attempting to confront the unthinkable, or allow their mind to wander to something they don't want to think, seeks refuge in the comfort of minutae.

Each character is highly self-deprecative, reflective of the way in which weare all plagued by insecurities, self-loathing lying behind our bravado exterior. Also evident are several instances of much-needed comic relief in throwaway commentsm, showing our ability to make light of whatever situation we find ourselves in.

As their journey is disrupted by evacuation, one character (and so all of them) consciously registers the experience they have all shared; the poignancy comes from the fact that they will never speak of it again or change the way in which they seek to development a connection with their fellow men and women, and also that they have shared much more with us, the disembodied spectator, than each other.

Everything about the execution of this show is slick and precise, deliberate and neat. The set is ideal, the use of multimedia fantastically integrated. The cast are seasoned people-watchers with the ability not only to feign absent-minded inertia, but to conjure up amazing images with words and deliver them in a way that captures perfectly the essence of mankind.

The experience of One Under is cathartic, quasi-medical, as though you've unwittingly seen some tragedy. One thing I'm sure of, besides that I'm going to be more forthcoming with what I really feel, is that what has emerged here is a pick of the Fringe. I'm eagerly awaiting Parting Shot's next production.


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