Reunion

Fri 7th – Sat 29th August 2015

reviews

Chloe St George

at 12:44 on 19th Aug 2015

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After their successful run at the Wimbledon Studio Theatre earlier this year, Living Record Theatre Company present Reunion, one half of Neil Smith’s play Absent, a skilful and emotive exploration of memory. In it, elderly couple Jude and George relive their past together whilst awaiting the arrival of their daughter and granddaughter.

If you pass the cast of Reunion on the Royal Mile, you will find them upon a neat rectangular carpet of artificial grass. By the time you arrive at Greenside Infirmary Street to watch the show, this shiny exterior has already begun to crack. Spotless lawns are replaced by mounds of earth and everything feels rather raw, as audience members step over the set to take their seats.

As the play unravels, the aptness of this becomes increasingly clear; in Reunion, the tragedies of the past can never be fully covered up. This underlying sense of unease is planted from the outset, before the show begins in fact, as Jude assures the audience (though seemingly reassuring herself) that “they’ll be here soon”. It is a great credit to the production that, whilst this sense remains for the entirety of the show, it is in no way tiresome. Instead, it develops into one that is connected to and explained by the mysteries within the plot.

Apart from a couple of unsubtle moments in which the themes of death and fragility were slightly heavy-handed, the script is an absolute delight. It is this excellent scripting, alongside an extremely watchable duo, which transforms the most mundane of conversations into an urgent and compelling piece. In a kind of ‘Beckett does The Archers’ discussion of familial matters, the neighbours, the cat, and iceberg lettuce are talked about humorously and poignantly, alongside the darker elements of love, memory and mortality, all against a backdrop of a lot of waiting.

The performance simply could not have been slicker, and manages to be fast-paced and reflective simultaneously. Jill Rutland and Luke Barton as Jude and George flit effortlessly and fluidly between time and tone. As such, it is no effort for the audience to believe in the youthful immediacy and sensuality of the elderly couple or in the tiredness of age in two young actors. With all this, it may come as a surprise that there is room left for comedy, and yet the play was unexpectedly funny. Yet at the mercy of delicate writing, accomplished leads and sharp direction from Ross Drury, laughter may always be one second away from tears.

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Flo Layer

at 12:46 on 19th Aug 2015

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Reunion has to be one of the most emotionally intense plays I have seen at the Fringe.

This new play by Neil Smith introduces you to George and Jude – an elderly couple sat amongst the geraniums in their garden, who have the horrible task of burying their pet cat. Yet this morbid act begins to unearth the tragedies of their past; as the play progresses the audience shares in the couple's painful story.

Both Luke Barton and Jill Rutland performed with beautiful sincerity and an unforgettable emotional intensity. More than once, I noticed a tear streaking down George’s (Barton) face, and his distraught expression at the end of the play was enough to make my own eyes fill to the brim with tears (I saw one member of the audience out of the corner my eye sobbing uncontrollably).

George and Jude sit in their idyllic garden, in the middle of a set strewn with soil spilling grow-bags, patches of grass and buckets of water. Both actors use the simple set to great effect, with the water transforming into a pond, a bath and tears. The use of talcum powder poured into the actors' hair was particularly effective; not only did it effectively ‘age’ the actors and turn their hair grey but it became a really original visual effect throughout the play, flicking in great swathes of powder from the actors as they moved around the stage to create a dusty and nostalgic setting.

The actor’s physical movements were also beautifully controlled, readily reflecting the emotional power of the play. At times, scenes such as George and Jude’s first night together before eloping become suffocatingly intimate, a brilliant reflection of the play’s consistent contrast between the disturbing violence and gentle affection of the central relationship.

Throughout the play Rutland cleverly slips between her role as Jude and her daughter Jen as the play shifts backwards and forwards in time. This was occasionally a little confusing, yet this disorientation became central to the play’s progression – building in tension until the final devastating revelation.

Reunion never feels overly sentimental and it is tinged with the grim and earthy details of real life. Impressive acting and a well-timed, expressive script combine to create an absolutely beautiful play.

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