The Ones

Sat 6th August 2016

reviews

Lizzie Buckman

at 08:47 on 7th Aug 2016

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When Ilias Panagiotakopoulos, writer and director of 'The Ones', took on the challenge of creating a play about communication itself, he set himself and his team a tall order for Urbn Theatr’s first foray into the Fringe.

The story is that of a man and a woman communicating online across the Atlantic, suspended is an in-between stage of strangers, friends and maybe even lovers. It is told not from start to finish, or even finish to start, but in a constellation of isolated interactions, words and absences. Links are drawn through questioning, the woman’s (Liis Mikk) repeated asking of “Why? Where? Why? Where?” gives the impression that the script is being written in front of us.

Panagiotakopoulos dismantles the conventions of storytelling, and also of theatre. There are scripts on stage, the actors break character to discuss how they should be performing, and take intentionally conspicuous water breaks between scenes. Done well this could be spellbinding, but unfortunately the performance falls just shy of either intellectualism or entertainment.

The sparsity of the set and staging allows refrains in the script to acquire fresh signification with each repetition, depending on whether the actors are sitting, standing, facing each other or facing the audience. However, what exactly is being signified sits frustratingly just out of reach. Of course, finding answers is not always the point, but there is danger in alienating your audience. Perhaps a more theatrical mode of communication, adapting rather than abandoning technical elements, would aid the story telling.

The script is strong, with many fascinating and charming fragments. For a moment, the dialogue slips into Estonian, and the ease with which these lines are delivered miraculously gives the impression of a complicit understanding. The exchange and reading of poetry, a robot dance and the only face-to-face encounter of the play all hold potential, showcasing Panagiotakopoulos’ skill for finding depth in the everyday and noise in silence - it just all needs to be expressed more clearly.

William Uden and Mikk do well to form consistent characters across such fragmentation. Uden in particular manages to create a strong character in a play which doesn’t necessarily require or leave much space for it, however more pace and engagement with the character from Mikk could give this show a real boost.

William Uden quotes Romeo’s famous speech: “She speaks yet she says nothing, what of that”. It is this implicit communication that should drive ‘The Ones’, but the shortfall of this production is that it doesn't quite communicate itself.

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Una O'Sullivan

at 09:53 on 7th Aug 2016

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‘The Ones’ is a play which explores so many facets of human communication that, ultimately, no story is communicated.

William Uden and Liis Mikk act in a strained manner, which reflects their characters’ difficulty in communicating. Watching them interact is a frustrating experience, as metaphors, poetry, unanswered questions and cryptic repetitions string misconstrued words out across the span of the play. The characters cling to every number and date in their lives, as words dissolve amidst the scraps of paper that litter the stage in a wasteland of lost messages.

The set design (by Lampadarios Pappas) coheres cleverly with the motifs of the play, with eight stackable boxes providing barriers, connections, and talking points for the cast.

The acting is strong, although during the particularly long monologues, it would be good to see more dynamism from the listening actor. Along a similar vein, the long, often awkward conversations cry out for some music, or variation in lighting. Perhaps music was disregarded precisely due to this capacity to relieve silences of their awkwardness, but I think its ability to heighten the emotive pull of a scene is too important to be ignored. While the acting is strong and convincing, the addition of music would add a much-needed emotional coherence to the episodic work.

Rather than performing a narrative for the audience to enjoy, this play chooses to fill the audience with the exasperation that comes with a sense of being misunderstood. The writer and director, Ilias Panagiotakopoulos, raises insightful points about this most human of conundrums, yet overall, this play preoccupies itself with too many ideas to form a coherent story. It asks the audience to think, but in the absence of music and a compelling narrative, it must also ask the audience not to allow their minds to wander.

In a bid to cover many classic methods of miscommunication, Panagiotakopoulos has created a work which can lose itself in bitty exposition and stilted abstractions. There are some lovely, powerful moments to the play, particularly in the later parts. One instance is when both characters speak and sing at the same time, the dissonance hammering home the idea that the gap between them is unbridgeable.

Overall, the play gives a very interesting exploration of its themes, and its choice to embody its subject of miscommunication is a brave one. The flyer claims that ‘The Ones’ “raises a looking glass to modern society’s habits,” and this show successfully represents the agonising practices that can entail.

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