EFR - Reviews of Novemberunderground

Novemberunderground

Thu 8th – Sat 10th August 2013

reviews

Jazz Adamson

at 09:48 on 9th Aug 2013

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Walking up the dimly lit stairs in the Underbelly there was an overwhelming smell of dampness and what sounded like experimental, moody indie pop. Welcome to Edinburgh Fringe. In fact, this was a great way to set the tone for the rest of the show; a brilliantly dark and imaginative comedy set in 2024.

‘NovemberUnderground’is a piece of theatre originally developed as part of the Royal Court Studio Group, so this may well account for the impressively slick production; it felt taut, as though the hand of the director were never far away and the actors dynamic marionettes in his hands. Imagery was arresting at points, as when Clara (Imogen Hudson-Clayton) kneeled suggestively before gun-weilding Tim (Harry Owens), her in a red dress and him in a white towel with a white bed conspicuously in the foreground. In the previous scene, the red and white had mingled on the blood-stained bed, so this imagery signalled a striking step backwards in narrative to before the deed of killing. The entire production was a feast for the senses, with spectacular song choices including The Specials’ ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ jarringly (though amusingly) following the shock of the previous scene’s gunshot.

The words were as sharp as the images. Dialogue began awkwardly between a couple in a restaurant, but it was deliberately and convincingly done, and the latent sexual tension swiftly emerged. For example, after Clara has fed Tim a spoonful of cheesecake she puts the spoon in her own mouth and remarks, “You’re making the spoon taste of coffee…I can taste it…” – a claim which he pointedly denies. This marks the beginning of what becomes a character trend: Clara’s low self-esteem and desire to hurt herself (which is made blackly comic by her labelling of her plastic surgery “cosmetic self-harm”).

Indeed, the acting and characterisations in this play are fantastic. Harry Owens manages to pull off both the cynical, blasé, married 4 times and unfaithful Tim and the vulnerable, eager to be liked and nervy Tim who materialises in the bedroom. Imogen Hudson-Clayton as Clara, on the other hand, has perfected the desperate-sounding laugh of a sad but probably coked-up woman. The role of the cleaner is especially well performed – he was perhaps the only character the audience warmed to.

However, this is a show about something bad that happens in the future. It hints at conspiracy and even flirts with the idea of terrorism, but we are never offered any answers. In one way this allows the aura of mystery to remain intact, but it does mean it can feel hollow. This production puts form over substance. Nonetheless, that form is very good, and the play is not without charm (a certain dancing scene is called to mind) alongside that dark humour.

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Imogen O'Sullivan

at 10:08 on 9th Aug 2013

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When you imagine us 20 years into the future, what do you think of? I think of hoverboots. Thomas Clancy thinks of face transplants, laser eye surgery, and cancer for all. Oh, and a cryptic organisation called ‘Novemberunderground’ which has something to do with an unmentioned horror in Canada.

As the floor rumbles to the ominious roar of what sounds like aerial warfare, we meet Clara and Tim. The chemistry between the pair makes the air thick with tension. Harry Owens is magnetic, even when silent: in the opening scene he watches Clara with such engrossed fascination that you see their lives locked together in a moment. As he drones "thank you" to a waiter he is somehow simultaneously bored and thrilling to watch. Their mutual bleak antipathy to sex, death, and anything in between, ranges over fake tits, dead wives, and miscarriages, characterising a culture so overstimulated and overindulged that they are numb to feeling anything. A bleak but recognisable vision of the future.

Burning Oak Theatre’s smart, snappy and, above all, slick, production, rests on Clancy’s script. The fast-paced overlapping dialogue keeps the conversations between Tim and Clara beautifully obscure. Their verbal sparring is a joy to watch, with intricate word play marking them out as antagonists and equals, and making the climax even more shocking. It’s so unexpected it makes me gasp. I feel jarred and shaken, and the incongruity of ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ blaring from the speakers makes me want to laugh at the same time. I feel like I’m stuck in ‘American Psycho’.

Sometimes the dialogue is overly glib, Clancy revelling in his own urbane eloquence, but it marks out the scene between Robert Kirby and Gerard McGrath as the best in the play. The discussion of whether McGrath is more ‘blasé’ or ‘nonchalant’ whilst they’re cutting up a body is something straight from ‘Pulp Fiction’. Ed Thorpe is the heart of the piece, and the only heart in the piece. His heartbreaking delivery of ‘Are you online? ... Do you reckon we could connect?’ is beautifully funny and touching.

The script is slick, the set is slick, and the appropriately sterile corporate world of hotel restaurants and bedrooms is covered in the slick sheen of ‘American Psycho’. The blazing 80's beats remind us that this isn’t the future, we’ve been here before and we’ve been here for a while, regressing into hollow, lonely individualism that leaves us ultimately numb.

As the show careers towards its close, things start to click together, but we are still left mostly in the dark. I wanted there to be a neat link, a revelation of meaning, but maybe the point is that it fails to quite mean enough.

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