EFR - Reviews of Much Further Out Than You Thought

Much Further Out Than You Thought

Thu 6th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Abigail Smith

at 09:25 on 9th Aug 2015

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Giles Roberts’ Much Further Out Than You Thought is an exhausting exploration of PTSD, detailing the incredibly high cost of 'two worlds blurring'; civilian life and the war in Afghanistan. The parts which worked were incredibly moving, and left the small audience enthralled, silent in the gloomy, minimalist venue. Yet the majority was simply too dense, and took over half an hour to really get going.

The premise of the show features Lance Corporal James Randall recording a video birthday message to his son, where the audience is nervously addressed as his son ‘Danny’. This initially felt intense, as Roberts stuttered and twitched his way through painful recollections intermixed with reflections on his family. We were given access to his troubling thoughts on the meaning of heroism, and the motivations behind becoming a “killing machine”.Yet soon it came to feel like we were forcing the story out of him: with such a heavy topic, I left the theatre feeling genuinely drained.

Despite many moments of incredible poignancy, it also felt slightly overworked and polished, with carefully marked pauses and expletives. I was willing Roberts to let go a little, and show the rawness that would have befitted such a harrowing script. This was not helped by the stillness of the first half; Roberts rarely moved, and while this sometimes made his performance more intense, it also made it more difficult to become fully absorbing.

However, all of this changed in the second half. The thudding bass of the music transported us to Afghanistan, and Roberts was suddenly energised, giving a thrilling performance. This high-speed action was cut through by a really lovely moment where he teaches the Afghan children to make aeroplanes, just as he did with his own son — a marker of a far more poignant second half. As the soldiers patrolled, I stopped looking at my watch and found myself on the edge of my seat, jumping at gunfire, and barely breathing in moments of silence. The second half also sees far more in the storyline of his home-life, and I become invested in what happened to his wife and son, with the truly disturbing cost of war portrayed in a shocking, if slightly rushed, conclusion.

The show is a mixed bag. I left feeling uncomfortable with its reductive discussion of domestic abuse, and occasionally clichéd speeches, but it is certainly a show I would recommend. Once you are through the slow start, Roberts gives a wonderful solo performance, and the company should be commended for dealing with a topic that is so often left taboo, and treating it with such brutal sincerity.

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Beckie Rutherford

at 09:54 on 9th Aug 2015

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Based on the expectation of a harrowing expose of life in the British army, what made Much Further Out Than You Thought a stand-out performance is the detail and sensitivity of the writing combined with Giles Roberts’s incredibly polished delivery. The monologue of Lance Corporal James Randall was as raw and bitter as you would expect from an Afghan war veteran, and Roberts exhibits great skill in his transformation into Randall’s complex character.

The sparseness of the set is striking from the moment you enter the room, with the minimalist use of sound and lighting immediately directing attention towards Randall’s slumped, seated figure. What then unfolds is an hour of intense drama, in which Randall’s irrevocably damaging experience in the British army is revealed through a self-recorded birthday message to his son.

Roberts gripped audience members individually with his penetrating stare. Yet in between these brief, vulnerable moments he seemed to retreat and become totally consumed within the mind-set of his character. Mostly his tone of voice was dulled and contained but thankfully the overall performance did not become emotionally monotonous - an impressive feat given the sheer length of the monologue. Randall’s self-deprecation for letting slip a few swearwords prompted a few wry smiles from the audience, but aside from that the heavy pathos was unremitting.

As the action gains pace Roberts’s performance becomes simply mesmeric and the scene re-enacting an incursion into Helmand Province is very well written and executed. Not only did it interrupt what would otherwise have been almost an entirely stationary performance, but it engaged the audience on a visceral level, and there were moments when you could have heard a pin drop.

Having said that, this play would probably benefit from being shortened. The ending seems unnecessarily drawn out. Although there were several significant plot developments in the final few minutes, it felt feel rushed and under-explored; a disappointing follow-on to the careful craftsmanship of the first half.

Attending an opening performance with only a handful of other audience members actually helped to create a genuinely intimate environment, which felt somewhat fitting for a piece of this genre. However, I hope that as the Fringe goes on, this cleverly written and expertly performed new drama will gain the critical recognition that it richly deserves.

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