Albatross

Fri 5th – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Thomas Jordan

at 19:10 on 14th Aug 2016

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To last one and a half hours as a solo performer, you need a remarkable amount of energy, charisma and…well, memory. Benjamin Evett has all this in a masterful one-man performance. It is a shame, then, that the obvious linear content of the play is such that it feels as though his enactment of the sub-plot to Coleridge’s 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' is dragging. Well over an hour is just too long for 'Albatross', though this does not prevent the audience from being able to marvel at some incredibly high quality acting.

From the off, Benjamin Evett is immersed into his emotional context, both physically and metaphorically. During his opening monologue he begins erecting his own set, winching up the ragged sails that will form the backdrop for his nautical tale. This set is part of an impressive technical set-up; an exhilarating array of light shows and sound effects create an atmosphere that is both realistic and distinctive, with well-synchronised splashes and distant wails combining with alluring images that are projected onto the multifunctional sails. Our main character’s own sound effects compete impressively with the recorded ones, his rich, booming voice providing both voices and sounds. Alongside his boundless vigor and flawless recital of his script, Evett’s performance is at times astounding.

The production and acting, then, are notable. But such is the nature of one-man plays that the story gradually becomes a little flat. As Evett’s character narrates his own painfully slow death of thirst aboard his ship, some audiences will begin to long for a different form of story telling, or at least a new narrator. Perhaps it is the content. To maintain a sense of realism, the starvation and thirst must happen over time, but the unfortunate consequence is that the script becomes rather flat and repetitive. This is not helped by the odd timelessness of the piece, in which we get occasional contemporary references to Syrian refugee boats or the Titanic, and suddenly we are lost in a lengthy, unplaced timeline.

Ultimately, it is difficult to fault the performance and production. For this alone 'Albatross' is worth seeing. It is only a shame that the play falls foul to its own dramatic form.

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Izzie Fernandes

at 19:20 on 14th Aug 2016

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Coleridge; according to the grubby, rag clad, middle aged man onstage your 'Rime of the Ancient 'Mariner' is “way too fucking sweet” and you “leave out everything dirty.” Benjamin Evett; this is a bold claim to make against one of the cornerstones of the Romantic movement in England. Yet, somehow with the power of good old-fashioned storytelling, the bone Evett has to pick is executed with an energy which sustains the audience engagement throughout. With professionalism, Evett departs Bristol port on an epic sea journey which uncovers a filthy story behind something Coleridge washed over in the eighteenth century. What happened before the albatross?

Colderidge’s Mariner has roamed the earth for 300 years. Evett's decision to strip the ballad of the romanticism it is usually attributed in classroom discussions is refreshing and original. A chance meeting with a hermit, a drunken night landing him on Black Dog’s ship and a succession of chains, exotic animals, waves, cold chills and searing sun enliven the tale. The narration is detailed yet progressive. The show lasts an hour and a half. Although a little lengthy, Evett's ability to command the stage is undoubtedly more successful than the Mariner’s ability to command the ship.

The style is captivating; the storytelling transcends the fourth wall with fantastic energy. Whilst remaining utterly true to the rough, ready and fowl mouthed sailor that he is, Evett's performance exudes professional polish, incorporating impressive variations of tone and staging. Evett's dynamism is undeniably the focus of this one-man show yet the set is also impressive. Ropes, ladders, buckets and pulleys accommodate a range of destinations we visit. Blue green lighting picks up dimly red elements as the mood darkens. Atmospheric mist by way of a smoke machine and a trickle of water from the ceiling are just a few of the striking aesthetics.

The precision is animating; it stands out from other shows I have seen this Fringe as markedly professional. Saying this, the canvas backdrop- symbolic of a sail perhaps, probably could do without images intermittently projected onto it. Call me old-fashioned but using such technology so explicitly seems jarring. This is a raw tale narrated from the mouth of an engaging mariner in 1720, the rhetoric is solid; Cicero never whipped out any PowerPoint.

Initial concern that challenging Coleridge may be overreaching is appeased by the Mariner’s conviction this is “my fucking story so who is plagiarising who.” Evett makes the natural world his own; his appeal to the audience to donate to a planet conservation charity bears testimony to this. Yet, the nuanced script does not overlook themes thinkers have spent years extracting from 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'.

The 13-foot albatross “lands stands commands”. With animated delivery, Evett tantalizes the senses. With touches of human honesty 'Albatross' draws on Coleridge’s symbolism delving into the depths of disbelief, sin, suffering, sorrow, and God.

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