Leave Me

Mon 11th – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

Tania Nicole Clarke

at 21:56 on 11th Aug 2014

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‘Leave Me’ is a new piece of writing that attempts to tackle the sensitive issue of rape in the context of what seems to be a secure and loving relationship, though admittedly, I can’t say I ever fully invested in the foundations of this particular romance. The lovers, Ellie and Issac are played by Lily McCann and Tom Greene, who are both equally competent and committed actors, but unfortunately fail to strike any believable chemistry on stage. This downfall however is certainly not the fault of the actors, merely the result of a weak script which is not given the stage time to be fully developed, and thus lacks both clarity and any kind of fleshing which is truly needed for the audience to invest in the lovers' relationship from the beginning.

The episodic production promises physical theatre accompanied by live music, but is psychologically baffling in its portrayal of a violent, abusive relationship. This is because the foundations of this relationship seem so fake and thinly held together that the real crux of the problem is missed and obscured by our confusion. It is unclear from the outset as to whether the abuse stems from an unsettled conscious and loss of trust from Ellie, who eventually becomes just as sinister as her boyfriend in attempting to strangle and stab Issac, or whether Issac actually has committed the act of rape.

The relationship we are presented with on stage thus makes the issue at hand even more problematic and complex to explore, because we are so uncertain about what is actually happening between the pair. Just as Ellie is about to place her trust in Issac again after what he pleads was just a drunken mistake, she asks that he gives her some control in letting her mount him on the bed while she kisses him, but only if he promises not to touch her as she does so. By this point in the speedy thirty-five minute production we are struggling to gauge how the dynamics of their relationship worked before the loss of trust.

The physical theatre itself is also unfortunately slightly underwhelming, given that the production claims to hinge on the movement component of the performance. The pair perform all the expected lifts, counterbalances and embraces, but the physical theatre lacks the required energy and originality to really impress us. The choreographed movements are stylized, but have a strong grounding in the real-life interactions between lovers, with intimate gestures, but often seem awkwardly balletic and forced.

The staging should however be rewarded for being bold, brave and experimental - it places a double bed in the centre of the stage and is performed in the round, meaning the pair have nowhere to hide and we are able to focus on the raw performance. The direct correlation between the movement on stage and the violinist perched at the side of the performance space sometimes works, accenting particularly heart-felt moments between the couple.

What we witness is what begins as a lover’s tiff as Ellie teases her boyfriend and claims Issac makes her feel “tired, pissed-off, stressed and confused”, which rapidly escalates into a monstrously frightening relationship attempting to tackle a tender and harrowing issue.

If these two talented actors were given the chance to fully develop the relationship between these two characters then perhaps the issue might have been explored in more depth, but due to the fragmented nature of the performance, the diluted dialogue which lacked depth and the pace of the production, we fail to fully engage with the problem.

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Ben Horton

at 09:21 on 12th Aug 2014

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What must be stated before going in to this performance, is that drama dealing with such contentious issues as rape are vitally important. Act One production company’s attempt to challenge social assumptions about this complex subject demonstrated the ongoing relevance of theatre as an activist medium. The only catch is that it had to be done in a sophisticated manner, and too often this show lapsed into condescension and repetition.

Leave Me told the story of a love affair which degenerated into a horror show of sexual and non-sexual physical violence. The relationship between Ella and Isaac (played by Lilly McCann and Tom Greene) started out as a dreamy, intoxicating courtship where the former took the leading role. This seemed to be the only complicating factor in the plot, telling the audience that even when the girl is the initial seducer she always has the right to stop, and the man must accept this.

McCann and Greene gave accomplished, if occasionally overwrought performances in the starring roles. Greene in particular had an intensely expressive face which belied the platitudes the script required him to utter and which conveyed a slight unease from the very start of the play. The sense that he did not entirely trust himself was powerful. McCann meanwhile skilfully transitioned from coquettish seducer to terrified victim, a change which was backed up by some eerily atonal accompaniment from solo violinist Nia Squirrel.

The visceral intensity of this show was perfectly suited to the claustrophobic surroundings of the studio theatre at Merchant House. It was enhanced by the decision to stage it in the round, with the audience huddled around a bed on which much of the action took place. A slight flaw in the execution of this was the unavoidable masking that the actors committed during their closest, and most powerful moments. In actual fact, however, an air of mystery was the result of this flaw, as part of the audience was always left ignorant of half the cast’s expressions.

Such an air of mystery was welcome, because the plot was otherwise quite predictable. Yes, as I've said, this show’s message was hugely important, but it’s also overly simplistic. Few people would argue with the statement “rape is bad, regardless of who initially pulled who.” It was Leave Me’s inability to bring in a more complex examination of this theme which ultimately disappointed.

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