Panning for Gold - Free

Wed 15th – Sun 26th August 2012

reviews

Ettie Bailey-King

at 09:20 on 16th Aug 2012

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'Panning for Gold' certainly doesn’t do anything explicitly ‘wrong’. Unfortunately it doesn’t do anything exceptionally ‘right’ either. It brings together four thoroughly capable actors in the setting of a women’s support group, and while the performances are highly believable, they are little more than this. This play may be about suicide and rejection, but a description of its themes is still the most compelling thing about it.

Juno (Penny Lamport) sets the tone with a strong, stable performance as the therapy group-leader. She no doubt supports and makes possible the rather more varied stagecraft of Ada (Jasmine Smart), the fiery exuberance of Robyn (Anna Gillingham-Sutton) and the studied vulnerability of Shari (Lydia Denny) but, together, the combination is not altogether electric.

Smart’s play deals with darker and more fascinating concepts in the abstract than it does in practice. The ‘other side’ of betrayal, the horrifying impulse towards suicide, even the extraordinary, real-life details which are woven into the narrative all suggest that this play could be stunning. It just gives over a huge proportion of the running time to intimate, well-acted but bland scenes. The group’s growing camaraderie is a case in point – utterly believable, well-directed, organic – but given how long it takes to happen, it’s not all that interesting.

Smart’s strange decision to include a large chunk (in the play’s already limited time) of another play also suggests faltering confidence. While the play in question is a classic tragedy (about the best one that you could wish for) it feels like it’s been parachuted in to rescue the floundering play. It could suggest any number of parallels with the central plot but they aren’t teased out, with the exception of a single line of dialogue that didn’t strike me as relevant at all.

There are a couple of powerful images in the play, and it’s a pleasure to watch talented actors in just about anything, but I left ‘Panning for Gold’ clutching a collection of impressions that didn’t seem to add up to much. The closing lines are suitably grand and thought-provoking but jarred somewhat with the preceding hour of closely-observed and seemingly-unrelated group interaction.

The strongest thing about this play is, tragically, its synopsis. Unless Thrice Three Muses were genuinely aiming for good acting and uncompelling content, they might do well to go back to the drawing-board and pull out something punchier and more powerful from this piece.

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Juliet Roe

at 10:47 on 16th Aug 2012

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The discussion of suicide and depression through a prism of female friendship - this could be insightful and thought-provoking but what emerges is really quite mediocre. The acting is fine, but the script does not really allow for much development of the theme or characters and the stage space could be made more of.

A weird habit of this piece is to make the scenes incredibly short; it is trying to show how many different therapy sessions these women share in trying to recover from severe emotional trauma, however the effect is a bit bitty, with the therapy sessions being eclipsed by the number of scene changes. Given the necessity in a piece such as this for the characters to have enough time to develop, it is bewildering that they portion off such a large bit of stage-time to perform the last scene in Shakespeare’s ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. Earlier in the piece different kinds of suicides are discussed interestingly, such as Jesus’ crucifixion, and made to seem more relevant to the characters. It’s difficult to see why this couldn’t be expanded, perhaps with one speech from ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ being analysed rather than an entire scene. Despite the limitations of the piece itself, the actresses are all quite talented, with Anna Gillingham-Sutton as a victim of adultery and understudy Lydia Denney, stepping in as adulterer, being particularly good through their being made to confront their contested right to victimhood.

The small theatre space itself was quite well suited to the piece, as the set consists simply of four chairs in the round, which gives the effect of the audience being silent members of the group therapy sessions. However, this could have been made more of and due to it being a little ignored the cramped space just made the frequent scene changes feel long and clumsy. Of the two stars I’ve given this piece, one of them is for the stoicism of the actresses who did put a great deal of energy into this rather contrived drama. With such an emotionally and psychologically juicy subject, both the writing and the production could have done so much more.

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