EFR - Reviews of Polaroid Stories

Polaroid Stories

Tue 9th – Sat 13th August 2011

reviews

Ramin Sabi

at 12:48 on 10th Aug 2011

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Polaroid Stories Review

Fusion Theatre's original production about people living at the bottom of American society by Naomi Itzuku is an engaging, well-performed and at times harrowing exploration of relationships in such circumstances. The structure involving a number of isolated interlocking stories maintains very subtle reference to a series of Greek myths, although this only became obvious on seeing the cast list and knowing that all the characters are named after classical figures, which does leave the impression that this concept is an unnecessary and convoluted imposition on a play that works fine without it.

The most engaging thing about the play is the cast, who maintain the chilling atmosphere of deprived depravity at an impressive level. At the first moment we are drawn in by Talya Patrick's beautiful singing voice before we are immersed in a cacophony of names that all seem meaningless - the world this play explores is one in which the harshness of society deprives people of their identity. This underlying emptiness is seen in the truly captivating performances of Tommy Neuyan as the Narcissus figure, narrating stories with a light-hearted humour laced with darkness, and Johnny Manieusan whose madness as skinhead boy is at times terrifying, although there are moments when it must be remembered that just shouting isn't the best exposition of emotion. 

Another factor that makes this show impressive is the technical qualities. Lights are used to create a police car, an ambulance and a variety of evocative sets. Torches are used to create an atmosphere of darkness and tension or stars. Mirrors are used to create rooms. We also see soundscapes utilised with recordings of the cast to establish the complex atmosphere the play seeks to achieve.

The play as a whole reaches a real emotional level in its exploration of love in spite of the deprivation and self-maintained gored the characters live in. We see something approaching an original comment on relationships as questions arise: to what extent are these relationships based on artifice? We find the possibility that relationships are simultaneously empty constructions to hide from the horror of the world and products of real love.

Even though this production has many qualities, it fails to approach being even a very good play due to a few major flaws: the random selection of stories, even if interlocking, lacks a clear connecting narrative, which makes it difficult for the audience to become fully emotionally invested as is so necessary. The play also goes on for far too long, stretching out the exposition of its themes that could be dealt with much more concisely. It also seeks to be permanently intense - bar one moment of a man donning a blonde wig and dancing, there is no humour to reprieve us from the difficulties of what the play is showing. The unnecessary gesture towards a classical theme also likely distracts the writer from a clearer plot structure that would make the play more watchable.

While the performances and presentation are at times top notch, the lack of precise structure prevents Polaroid Stories from being the great play it might be.

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Imogen Sarre

at 15:18 on 10th Aug 2011

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What upsets me most about reviewing this production was that the performance of each and every one of the participating actor were so very brilliant. It feels like a travesty to not give it five stars – and yet, by never slowing down the intensity of the action or providing some much needed light hearted relief, it simply can’t warrant it. Drugs fuelled the characters, storyline, and the psychedelic nature of the scenes. Indeed, it dominated the play to such an extent that I felt like I had been sucked into its world for an hour and a half and then, like the users, spat back out again, somewhat more dishevelled than I had been before. Whilst this experience is, naturally, not to everyone’s taste, it was so powerfully and effectively achieved that it must be highly commended. It was such a shame therefore that, by never swerving from doom and gloom, the lack of variety actually detracted from the audience’s enjoyment of the show and engagement with the characters. Had there been some more comedy or more tensionless scenes, the contrast would have ensured that the plight of characters would have made a much deeper emotional impression on us. Instead, I left feeling rather dazed and pretty numb –too much horror actually stops you from taking it on board.

Opened by Talya Patrick’s beautiful singing as Philomela, the haunting song reappeared at various times throughout the performance, providing pretty much the only (and much needed) antidote to the frantic trips, violent mood swings and excessive Tourette’s-esque swearing which dominated the rest of the show. The play sets the drug world up as both a frightening reality and weirdly alien nightmare that those not involved in can never really comprehend. Naturalistic acting was accompanied surprisingly well with stylised movements, funky lighting and intrusive background sounds. The characters were fantastically defined and developed, their stories memorable and each actor’s delivery irreproachably powerful. Special mention must go to Dalia Haire as Eurydice, whose excellent acting was at its most touchingly evocative towards the end when she retold stories from her youth. Played by Johnny Manibusan, Skinhead boy’s frenetic energy and movement around stage was mesmeric, and Clare O’Kane, as skinhead girl, gave us a stunning performance which perfectly illustrated how royally screwed up she really was. It feels almost unfair to single out these three cast members, however, because all of them, without exception, were so outstandingly talented.

As some of the names make clear, there were underlying classical allusions in the script. I do feel it was a shame not to make these more explicit – the only reason I was even aware of them was because I was (as a reviewer) one of the lucky ones to get given a cast list. By not exploring or explaining these references at all, I feel unsure as to what they meant to say: are nuggets or nuances tantalisingly out of reach, or was it an entirely arbitrary choice that adds no real depth or complexity to the play? I would also like to add, while I go along this suggestion route, that although this wasn’t a problem in the production I saw (because the audience was (undeservedly) not full), the way it was staged when I saw it would not have been compatible with the thrust stage layout they had – perhaps that might need to be rethought.

Extremely disturbing, this is not for the faint-hearted (nor for the over anxious mother already concerned about the perils of drug abuse in the young). However, if you’re up for an intense hour and a half watching a superbly performed production with ‘fuck that shit’ as its mantra, this will be right up your street.

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