Steal Compass Drive North

Tue 16th – Sun 28th August 2011

reviews

Edie Livesey

at 15:41 on 17th Aug 2011

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Martin, an academic and filmmaker, struggles with his personal demon: self-adoration. This lively and touching piece of physical theatre addresses themes as diverse as love/lust and relationships, parenthood, conflict, immigration and the effects of selfishness. For a one-woman show (written and performed by Rachel Blackman) the array of characters is impressive. The story is engaging and the movement expressive.

Although its themes are weighty, Steal Compass is refreshingly optimistic. The parodied artist, who paints ‘what comes out of me and that’s mostly pain and blackness’ is very far from being the creator of this work. The piece ends with Martin in ‘a little bit of a tangle, but with a positive twist,’ as the secretary puts it. Her stoic response to the very real suffering in her own life – and her intelligence and artistic success – is a shock to Martin. He must begin to rebuild a life that has been smashed apart through nothing but his own stupidity. It’s left for us to guess what he will think on reading his secretary’s newest book and realising it’s all about him.

The costume changes are very highly effective, as are the different accents and mannerisms of the characters. The use of voicemail gives each character a suitably isolated feel, and the words are frequently poignant and funny. Martin’s rather childish response to the crisis, ‘Sorry I haven’t phoned but I figured it was best to wait a week and a half till you were back in the country,’ provides a realistic basis for his character progression, as he begins to face his responsibilities.

Particular highlights included the section tottering on the imaginary tightrope and some Austen Powers inspired dancing. At one point, Martin comes and sits with us in the audience. Watching the empty stage for quite a while, we imagine what’s meant to be there. Martin’s attention to the stage was great enough that I could almost believe it wasn’t empty. The mime at the beginning could however have been stronger.

Overall this is a clever and entertaining piece of theatre.

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Ashleigh Wheeler

at 09:49 on 18th Aug 2011

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What makes a five star show? Is it a complex list of theatrical ingredients perfectly balanced out in a final perfect production? This show proves that sheer talent can make a play rocket into the realms of brilliance and leave you in awe.

Rachel Blackman is the stunning star of this one-woman show, able to transform from middle-aged male university lecturer to small child to endearing female novelist in an instant. Her face and body create a complete and complex human world with no more costume than a blazer and glasses, and no more props than a stool and some lights. These transformations happen with a fluidity that leaves us never, ever uncertain as to who is onstage. It is very easy to forget that the same body plays each character when she is so wholly convincing in every role, and indeed when the characters themselves are so fully created.

The central narrative is a timeless one, of adult betrayals and mistakes. It’s all the more human for that though, and retains the power to surprise, to amuse, and to sadden. The play, which opens with a cringingly honest image of a man recording a video message for his lover, goes down the route of consequence and regret that we can see coming, but is no less affecting for that. What gives this well-known story of human failings the edge though, are a sequence of strange if delightful episodes of dance, and the wonderfully beguiling character of the receptionist. She frames the events within her own narrative, and also opens the play up so that issues of nationhood and identity swim about with those of love and sex and adulthood that have already come up. But these big questions aren’t flung at us, and they are certainly not answered. Rather, they hang there half-asked, rather like in life.

Indeed, Blackman‘s talent is really in her transitions at all. It’s in the deep and thorough realness that her performance and the play as a whole rings with. It’s all so truthful- beautiful and comical and sad. The kind of play you leave feeling as though you have known the characters personally. The kind of play that makes you wonder about it afterwards.

Though a part of me wonders whether this is the kind of theatre (slightly odd, one woman playing several roles) that everyone would agree is fantastic, ultimately I have to come to the conclusion that this level of acting and writing is a special thing full stop. Even with its more surreal episodes.

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