EFR - Reviews of First Class

First Class

Sat 9th – Sun 24th August 2014

reviews

Jessica McKay

at 21:52 on 17th Aug 2014

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First Class marketed itself with a cliché: ‘three lives, three choices, three trains’. Sadly, it progressed little beyond cliché, and an okay piece of new writing was marred entirely by below-par acting.

First Class tells the tale of Lydia (Erin Elkin), Jack (Joe Walsh) and Rachel (Maddie Haynes), three characters, of three different eras, traveling on a train to Manchester Picadilly. Lydia is a young mother, Jack a frustrated teacher and Rachel a failing tennis-star. The three actors switch in and out of character, becoming peripheral characters in each’s story and sharing lines as the ‘train announcer’. This sort of acting has been done so many times before - and a lot more successfully, too. Here, it was simply tedious and confusing.

The plot itself was not uninteresting, if slightly tainted by some strained logic and unconvincing dialogue. Unfortunately, any value in the script was erased by amateurish acting. At times, all three actors were guilty of overacting. Equally, on other occasions they downplayed emotive lines. It was a roller coaster of emotion - the queasy, cringe-inducing kind of roller coaster, not the exhilarating variety. Delivery wasn’t brilliant either. In places, the actors were slow to say their lines, mumbled them, were wooden or tripped over their words. The patchiness of the delivery effectively dampened any slightly comic lines.

I’d hazard a guess that the show hadn’t been exhaustively rehearsed before making the trip to Edinburgh. With more practice, the trio could definitely sharpen up their act. There’s potential, but at the moment its hidden beneath swathes of silly mistakes. Conversely, the Writer/Director James Beagon could pare the piece back to the short ten minutes it once was. With less to learn, Elkin, Walsh and Haynes could focus more on the quality of their performance.

Towards the very end, we were finally delivered the ‘interlocking’ story promised in the show’s bio. Yet, arguably, it would’ve been far better for Beagon to have subtly revealed those connections over the course of the play than forcefully ram them home at its conclusion: it was a classic case of too little, too late.

First Class is, sadly, second rate. If you have a lot of time on your hands and a lot of patience go see it, but I wouldn’t recommend this show to a busy festival-goer looking for the cream of the Edinburgh crop.

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Jeremy Barclay

at 03:17 on 18th Aug 2014

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I would like to start my review of Aulos Productions and Relief Theatre’s free show First Class with a disclaimer: there will be no puns on the title, no ‘this was a second class performance’ or anything of that sort. Anybody expecting this please alight at this station.

First Class is a three-person, character-switching play set on a train. Staged three floors beneath the labyrinth-like bar Espionage, the cavernous, moody setting felt somewhat like a disused underground station, which enforced the sombre tone of the piece before it even started. The three actors monologue for the duration of the 50-minute show, each with their own compelling stories that escalate and overlap over the course of the performance.

First Class boasts a well thought-out script, which works well with the format: each monologue being picked up and dropped by animated performers Joe Walsh, Erin Elkin, and Maddie Haynes at a moments notice. The effect of this was inconsistent – often leaving the audience a little dazed. However, at its best it was exhilarating: lines of monologue cascading deftly from every corner of the tiny stage.

The show does encounter some major pitfalls in its delivery. Whilst writer/director James Beagan has produced some excellent writing and tight stagecraft, the energy of the cast at times runs away with itself. Walsh often seemed to trip up over his own words in an attempt to portray a bumbling and disillusioned schoolteacher, entire lines of monologue reduced to incomprehensible mumbling.

Haynes’ portrayal of an old woman was far more convincing than her main character role as a second rate pro tennis player. This mars what was a mostly compelling performance from the three, who manage to balance their tragic monologues with moments of sharp and delightful comedy. In particular, Erin Elkin’s sympathetic portrayal of a ‘husbandless’ and ‘hungry’ young mother is exaggerated but never unbelievable, providing the backbone of the emotional climax of the piece.

Beagan’s script centres itself firmly around depression, which occasionally slips into repetitiveness. However, on this subject matter, his writing is often insightful and cynical, realising that depression ‘means something to most people but they don’t know what’.

Thankfully, insights such as this do not occur often enough to become tedious; they are peppered throughout the script judiciously. First Class successfully puts forth a powerful dissection of the various shades of depression across generations, in a manner that celebrates life.

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Comments

Emily Brearley-Bayliss; 20th Aug 2014; 20:49:54

This show clearly has good days and bad days. On a different occasion, the acting was definitely more together, though parts still seemed incoherent. Elkin did a particularly good job and gave a powerful performance, and is definitely worth going to!

Georgina Wilson; 20th Aug 2014; 20:53:56

Having gone to see the show later in the run, I was engaged by the intricate overlapping of characters' lives which are written into this ambitious script. Sometimes this was laid on too thickly, but at others it made for a very effective and poignant hour.

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