Way Back

Mon 5th – Sun 25th August 2013

reviews

Hazel Rowland

at 08:23 on 14th Aug 2013

1agrees

0disagrees

‘Way Back’ attempts to combine suicide and comedy with limited success. Using only three actors, it follows the story of Carol (Aynsleigh Turner), a member of the Beachy Head chaplaincy team, trying to help the suicidal Miles (Matt Lim) and failed ex-rock star Randy (Stephen Bermingham).

Both writer, Daniel Henry Kaes, and director, Will Seaward, have previously worked with the Cambridge Footlights, but their switch from comedy to drama is not wholly successful. Although they argue that their backgrounds in comedy mean they avoid the melodramatic, in truth, they are uncomfortable in handling the highly-charged emotions surrounding suicide.

A significant problem is the overuse of monologues – over half of the play consists of characters outpouring their inner turmoil. Initially it forms an interesting opening, giving an endearing and humorous insight into their thoughts (I particularly enjoyed Lim’s confessions on using disabled toilets). But it soon becomes dull and does not leave anything to the imagination. Sometimes what is left unsaid can portray far more.

However, it is partially redeemed by the choice of a small venue - the Belly Dancer at the Underbelly. The audience are near enough to the actors to be fully immersed in the events, and the acting does not risk losing subtlety from a need to project. Although the lighting is rudimentary, the spotlighting of the characters during their monologues makes the audience feel even closer to them.

It is the suicidal characters that use this intimacy most to their advantage, with some of their monologues being written and acted with convincing poignancy. One highlight was Miles’ speech on his fiancée’s death which carefully avoids being overblown and is all the more truthful because of it. Although Randy may border on the ridiculous, his portrayal of a self-centred and pathetic, Z-list celebrity gives light relief to Miles’ genuine misery.

Regrettably, these more carefully thought-out moments are counteracted by dramatic events which essentially serve no function. The momentous kiss and an overdramatic fight are included simply so that something ‘happens’. Whilst the play tries to tackle some complicated issues, it does not quite know what it wants to say. Even if their humorous confessions make the characters more believable, it is ruined by too many events which simply are not. Its quasi-happy ending is too coincidental, corny even, rather than satisfying. Although there are moments of genuine feeling, the play lacks direction and many avenues are left unexplored.

agree
disagree

Joshua Adcock

at 10:58 on 14th Aug 2013

1agrees

0disagrees

Though it promises to tackle the idea of suicide with wit, 'Way Back' is a play full of throwaway lines and poorly judged humour, compounded by unrelenting inconsistencies in its tone. Despite its attempts to be a dark comedy taking a wry look at suicide, the play fails comprehensively to actually explore the issue, playing out instead as a decidedly mediocre drama of inconsequentiality.

At many points there seems to have been little to no direction at all, with minimal attempt at coaching the actors and no thought given to staging. Nonetheless, Aynsleigh Turner’s Carol has a sweet, beguiling honesty which creates a natural levity in the piece; this would work really well if there were some actual darkness or bitterness against which to cut, but that is strangely lacking. Stephen Bermingham’s Rodney is performed as a ridiculously camp, cardboard cut-out rock star, and Matt Lim’s Miles lacks the real emotional depth and performative honesty required of a character burdened with the pain of loss.

The play is also marred with lighting mistakes and staging difficulties, including a speech in which audience members were required to awkwardly crane their necks around to see Rodney. Even the persistent spotlighting doesn’t perform its job properly: it often cuts off the top half of the actors’ faces, right below the eyes, and, when not in the spotlight, actors stand frozen still, a theatrical convention which is rendered pointless by the poorly executed lighting.

Flip-flopping between Miles and Carol, the dialogue’s scattered and fragmented utterances fail to develop any major ideas, and fail to create a thematic dialogue. Yet, at times, it seems that there are more disembodied monologues than actual scenes, leaving the play jumbled and vague as a result.

Furthermore, the play’s attempts to insert comedy are awkward and fumbling: though there were titters from the crowd, by and large the humour consisted of misplaced throwaway gags. After the corny asides, and at least one pointless awkward silence, the play suddenly seems to turn a corner into a humorous place, but is, again, mishandled, as though neither the director nor the actors know how to deal with the first humorous gag which isn’t a cheap joke. The play’s humour ends up being inconsequential, out of place, and smothers the struggling ideas already being neutralised by this roughshod treatment.

Overall, 'Way Back' lacks depth and truth, failing to adequately handle the tone of its own subject matter. Its dialogue is bereft of emotion or passion, and the whole play is stifled, stilted and stagey: there’s no life behind the eyes, and it has nothing to really say.

agree
disagree

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