Some Voices

Sun 7th – Sat 27th August 2016

reviews

Sebastian Ng

at 09:11 on 14th Aug 2016

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Ray (Michael Dallas) is a young man who has just returned home from some kind of institution, which, along with the medication his responsible brother Pete (Stefan Ward) keeps reminding him to take, clues us in to the fact that he has some form of mental disability (the nature of which is only revealed late in the play). Outwardly he appears normal, just one of those aimless, jobless young men muddling through life – yet his brother does not offer him a job at the family restaurant. And then he meets a girl … well, a pregnant woman named Laura (Rachael White) in the middle of extricating herself from an abusive relationship. They both find a measure of happiness with each other, but Ray’s untidy mind and Laura’s untidy life soon catches up on them.

Plays like this are made or broken wholly on the actors’ performances. Initially, Joe Penhall’s script takes its time setting up the characters, and here I found that the acting was lacking in nuance, with all the actors rushing the dialogue, talking or yelling their lines at each other, rather than listening and reacting to each other. Sometimes it feels like there isn’t much of a difference in the way they are playing their characters – switch the actors around and it’ll still work, because they’re all employing the same angry, frustrated tone anyway, just at different levels. An important tonal shift occurs when Ray is trying to woo Laura and she goes from irritation to beguilement in the space of a few beats, and the way White played that moment was abrupt, without an attempt to indicate to the audience what had changed internally within Laura. In fact, perhaps a problem the first half of the play reveals is that the actors have not been directed to make good use of pauses in between lines, depriving them of an important tool in nuancing their performances.

The play does offer up a series of juicy confrontational scenes for the actors to sink their hooks into in its second half, and it is here that the cast from Spearhead Theatre are often able to shine. In particular, White’s portrayal of Laura in the scenes when she is being threatened by her abusive previous boyfriend Dave (a scarily menacing Lewis McCutchen), and when she meets Pete for the first time and an unwelcome revelation ensues, is pitch perfect. She is asked to display a range of emotions here, sometimes involving abrupt shifts, and she manages that with panache in these latter scenes. Dallas and Ward’s performances improve by this point too, both actors seeming more present compared to their earlier scenes. The uneven quality of their performances suggests that, with more accomplished direction, the committed cast possesses the potential to pull this off flawlessly.

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Dominic Leonard

at 11:50 on 14th Aug 2016

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“Is it just me, or are things not the same colour anymore?” asks the protagonist of ‘Some Voices’ early on – this play explores schizophrenia with subtlety and tact, never indulging into the darker states of mental illness for the sake of it, but instead exploring the external problems involved with relationships, romantic and fraternal.

Ray, played by Michael Dallas (or by Elijah Wood stood on someone’s shoulders wearing an overcoat), has just been released from a mental hospital after a short month-long stay, and his readjustment to normal life is bittersweet and difficult. He falls in love with a woman, Laura (Rachael White), who is stuck in an abusive relationship with Dave (Lewis McCutchen), and Ray’s relationship with his brother Pete (Stefan Ward) becomes increasingly strained. A collision of class is also explored, as Ives (Andy Robertson) rails on the comfortable lives of the middle classes compared to the struggle of the mentally ill and the homeless, providing a difficult tangent that is not explored in its entirety. The play nonetheless explores the issue of mental health with deftness, truthfully showing the trouble present in these emotional struggles with talented actors and a simple but effective set of three stool-chairs and a table. (The cast are also slick and efficient between scenes, moving the set in half-light to the set-up for the following scene.)

The programme explains the goals of Spearhead Theatre: ‘breaking the boundaries of traditional theatre’ to ‘destroy the concept of boring’. Unfortunately the play does not quite live up to this vivid self-description; despite a talented group of actors, no single performance stands out, and the play itself is very standard, seeming like a high quality amateur production rather than a show put on by an established company.

Small problems hold ‘Some Voices’ back from excellence: the characterisation of Ray was somewhat fuzzy which makes him a difficult character to follow emotionally, the music between scenes is wildly inconsistent (and sometimes has a tendency to sound like Jeremy’s attempts at making techno in Peep Show), and as a whole, the production has too great a vibe of amateur dramatics to allow it to properly take off. It seems that the script, written by Joe Penhall, thinks it is more profound than it is, and whist the performances are strong (especially Rachael White and Andy Robertson), the play does not have that much else going for it.

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