EFR - Reviews of Blake's Doors

Blake's Doors

Fri 3rd – Sat 18th August 2012

reviews

Emma Yandle

at 09:50 on 8th Aug 2012

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How much do you really need to go on if you want to make a judgment on people? This is the opening thought of 'Blake’s Doors', a piece of new writing from LSE’s student theatre company The Revolving Shed. Other than this first scene, the one-act play is set entirely within one ward of an unidentified hospital. Learning from negation we are told that it’s not the psychiatric ward - that’s where Zylo their daily visitor obsessed with the bird’s nest out of the window is from. For some unknown reason a teenage girl and an elderly woman are forced into sharing a ward and then, time passes. The girl, Blake, begins as the epitome of steely restraint, refusing to be moved on her situation or to engage in personal interaction, other than to make a sarcastic retort. As the play progresses the inanity and oppression of her life within this one room leads her to become increasingly more cruel.

The subject of the play is made clear in the dialogue: Life itself. The greatness of the production was that this was not merely a quality of the dialogue, but infused into even the smallest details. The audience often watched characters just reading, placed in a voyeuristic position of seeing people when they’re just 'being'. The greatness of the characterisation was in the small details: the way the old woman methodically pats her feet into her slippers, how Zylo wears a clumsily flung on dressing gown but with perfectly laced shoes, how Blake restlessly changes channels on the television. These felt like silent clues to the real sense of the people that we weren’t quite being told, with symbolism perhaps hidden in their choice of books or a suddenly illuminating snippet coming from the background noise of the TV. How much do you really need to go on if you want to make a judgment on people? It was a question that resonated throughout the play.

The three actors were a strong ensemble, with Rachel Williams particularly standing out with her consummate performance as an incredibly convincing old lady. All the criticisms that you could have of the structure of the play, The Revolving Shed have already thought of. They write that 'Blake’s Doors' "could be seen simply as forty-five minutes of entertaining conversation" and that it "leaves an audience with the unsettling feeling that they may have missed something". However, there were some big capacious ideas thrown out in dialogue, such as Blake’s "We’re just doing what’s given to us, can’t you see?" that felt a bit like intellectual posturing rather than truthful observations. I felt that sometimes 'Blake’s Doors' fell into the trap of confusing a lack of something with profundity; yet overall these are really thought-provoking comments on theatre - how much we really need to go by to make a judgement of it.

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April Elisabeth Pierce

at 11:56 on 8th Aug 2012

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High above the city, in an isolated wing of a hospital, three patients await whatever misery might befall them. The plot is minimalist, hearkening back to the days of “Huis Clos”-brand existentialism. But there’s something special about this play. Unlike its 20th century analogues, whose attention to the inexpressibility of contemporary life often feels affected, Laurence Vardaxoglou and Joe Hitchcock’s brainchild, “Blake’s Doors”, is eerily believable. Herein lies its genius. The play manages the impossible; it is entirely self-conscious about its own form without being pretentious or soulless.

The play starts with a naïve question: “How much do you need to go on if you want to make a judgment about a person?”. Isolating personalities and displacing plot trajectories in order to highlight quirks is by no means a new technique to theatre. What’s interesting about the framing of the play is not its technicality, but the intangible presence of the actors. Pip Willett and Rachel Williams make a perfect foil. Conversations between the characters are casual, yet unnerving (a rare combination of qualities, and an especially impressive feat considering the close quarters of The Space on North Bridge, which is a cramped venue). A frank realism complements the abstract aspects of the piece, and this fresh take on existential drama carries over to each new scene.

While the use of three central personas risks cartoonish reduction of internal complexities, the writers of this play have embellished their actors with moments of truth. To further disorient the theatregoer, a range of clever devices cue the audience to their own thoughts. An obnoxious television carries prominent critical questions: “Is there a plot?” the TV asks - “No...”. Even the literary props are self-effacing. At one point Blake (Marie-Claire Hughes) reads John Kennedy Toole’s 'A Confederacy of Dunces', retelling the story with her own errors and deviations.

Like shadows tossed up against a blank wall, the underlying frustrations of the three central figures slowly appear in the face of death. Their anxiety stands out in sharp contrast to the inescapable boredom of quotidian life in the hospital, where “hundreds of people [are] busy dying”. Contrasts carry the plot. Boundaries between sanity and insanity start to blur. The startling juxtapositions between boredom and madness are never forced or overworked -- all is masterfully controlled. When conflict does occur, the questions are apt: “Why are you here?” “You can’t ask that.” Philosophically, the play is deeply satisfying, and any further comment would give away the most compelling features of the experience itself. In a phrase: thoroughly brilliant. This is Beckett with balls.

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