Lines

Fri 5th – Mon 15th August 2016

reviews

Ben Ray

at 20:36 on 15th Aug 2016

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“The Tube is not something to go to / but something to pass through.”

So opens one of the many themes explored in 'Lines', a bold and absorbing production that relentlessly analyses and portrays the lives of the different Londoners you meet every day on the underground. With a subtle mix of performance poetry, acting and live music, Pangean Productions manage to engage the audience and draw out much to discuss from these portrayals of simple, everyday Tube journeys. Through intertwining the lives and stories of these various reincarnations of the ‘everyman’, from a refugee to a teenager in search of his dead mother, these individual threads are woven into a tapestry of what life is supposedly like for the travellers beneath our feet.

This impressive scope of characters is deftly held together by intelligent uses of staging and scene changes. Coloured blocks are played with and used to construct scenes, the monologues explaining backstories are gracefully accompanied by soft guitar and violin from members of the cast, and the noises of train doors expressed through beat-box impressions. The subtle mix of humour and dark reality gives each story a sharp edge, such as the humorous tannoy announcer who later descends into a breakdown- clearly, people aren’t happy at TFL.

The performance is not without its issues. The intensity of the many themes packed into a single hour is at some points overwhelming and confusing, as the spotlight switches swiftly from major terrorist attacks to loneliness, and homelessness to the problems of being a career woman. If this is some clever attempt to mirror the maze of confusion that the tube can become, the performance successfully brings its topic home. But for an audience member, the amount of important issues and content addressed borders at times on the overambitious. The constantly repeated message of London’s bleak loneliness and animalistic nature is repeatedly enforced - with only the exception of a young girl, the wide cast of characters all give different angles on the same viewpoint: that the city is huge, impersonal and uncaring. Although this is certainly one way to look at the tube system, there must surely be other, more optimistic ways to view the city that brought us the heights of the 2012 Olympics?

Overall, this performance makes for arresting and slightly harrowing viewing: an innovative and intelligent approach to a dark, pessimistic view of London society. Yes, perhaps it could do with a few more laughs- but then again, who laughs on the Tube?

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Christopher Archibald

at 10:12 on 16th Aug 2016

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Pangean Productions’ ‘Lines’ tells the story of a group of diverse passengers on the London Underground. The rhymed spoken word is as slick as the actors’ movements; scenes and voices dissolve and reform like the movement of the tube’s crowds and trains. The ensemble works effectively with a bare stage and only some wooden blocks to create a variety of locations: a tube carriage, a platform, an escalator, public toilet and station control room. Yet, it’s the live music which makes the piece, gently sustaining the momentum in the background, and vividly creating the unique soundscape of the tube.

The play is built around brief monologues from the various characters. However, these all too often rely on stereotypes: the newbie just moved to London, the homeless man, the working mother. These tantalisingly brief glimpses into their lives capture the impression of an encounter on a tube train. However, the effort to build this in to one interconnected narrative via various coincidences and plot-twists is strained and, at points, absurd. We are confronted with discovered corpses, multiple terrorist attacks and at one point we leave the underground almost entirely for a look at a family falling apart under the pressure of a demanding career. The short airtime allotted to each of the large cast of very different characters limits how far we can be moved by the problems they face. With the brilliant raw materials of polished spoken word, skillful movement and live music, it’s a shame the depth of each character isn't developed a little further.

The program announces their intention to ‘explore the socio-political issues of our time with sensitivity and fearlessness’, and ‘Lines’ certainly directs its attention towards a variety of challenging issues. Yet, the scope of its discussion is perhaps too wide, and thus, like the characters, it lacks depth. However, the issue of unemployment in the face of rising automation on the tube is inventively handled. The voice over the intercom ditches the mechanical tones of ‘Mind the gap’ and plays her favourite tunes while the station’s signalling descends into chaos. This hilarious sequence is followed by a touching scene in which she complains of the impending ‘robo-tube’ and mass redundancy. This whole conversation takes place while she remains behind a door, a disembodied voice, not far off from a machine and easy to forget about.

This is a competent and engaging production, with moments of real brilliance. Yet its coherence is undermined by contorted plot twists and a dizzying array of subjects that left the audience confused. Though, of course, this partly reflects the bewildering warren that is the Tube.

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