A Traffic Jam on Sycamore Street

Mon 24th – Sat 29th August 2015

reviews

Stasia Carver

at 17:49 on 27th Aug 2015

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The cast of A Traffic Jam On Sycamore Street, a production by Liverpool University Drama Society, are to be commended for attempting to diverge from the norm in taking on David Jones’ ‘absurdist comedy’. The kind of surrealist humour involved here, however, notoriously tricky to get right, only ever appeals to a certain audience. Unfortunately, this attempt falls flat altogether: wooden, uninspiring and depressingly unfunny, this show makes for an hour of unmitigated boredom.

It’s difficult to tell how much this is due to the cast’s performance, and how much fault lies in the writing itself. The play follows a police investigation after a man receives a severed finger in the post, but there’s not much in the way of plot here; it’s essentially an hour of self-consciously eccentric characters drifting around stage and jumping to illogical conclusions about the case.

Unfortunately, almost none of them are compelling or even vaguely amusing. The main offenders are the two investigating police officers (Geraint Williams and Charlotte Parsons), whose monotonous routine is unbearably tedious within minutes of the play’s beginning. The characters’ most irritating traits - painfully repetitive dialogue; a deadpan refusal to acknowledge the logical contradictions in their deductions - may be characteristic of the absurdist genre, but the actors fail to make them either comic or even vaguely entertaining. Their habit of dully echoing almost every single sentence the other utters, far from being amusing, simply makes for an agonisingly slow pace.

Angela Hehir’s performance is the sole redeeming feature of this show: darkly whimsical as the chuckling clown-turned-lawyer, hers was the only character to provide any kind of comic relief. For all her efforts, however, her performance was unable to make up for what was otherwise an interminable hour of plotless meandering, unimaginative staging and expressionless acting. The audience sat in stony silence throughout.

Done well, absurdist comedy will appeal to its niche audience; done badly, it’s utterly unbearable. Sadly, A Traffic Jam on Sycamore Street falls into the latter camp. Perhaps the script could be salvaged in different hands; this cast proved sorely lacking in comic talent. Bafflingly dull, this show is definitely one to avoid.

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Anna Fleck

at 21:39 on 27th Aug 2015

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Liverpool’s University Drama society presents A Traffic Jam On Sycamore Street: an absurdly odd piece about clowns, traffic jams, and the case of a dismembered finger. At the Fringe, any kind of weird and wacky performance goes, but I think it’s fair to say that David Jones’ play is at the stranger end of the spectrum.

The minimalist set design of a table and three chairs permits this play to adapt to any space, and so it works well in the plain theatre venue in the Surgeons Hall. The absence of fancy lighting effects or sound cues means the play’s focus is concentrated solely on the script and the performance of the actors, specifically allowing Angela Hehir’s acting to shine brightly in an otherwise unembellished show.

Hehir is a breath of fresh air in A Traffic Jam On Sycamore Street. Her clowning playfulness, provocative heightened facial expressions, and unanticipated squeaking noises introduce moments of comedy whilst her vibrant clashing colours ensures that she remains the focal point throughout the play.

Two inspectors, played by Rhys Williams and Charlotte Parsons, work well as a dynamic duo. They are much like Tintin’s Thomson and Thompson and are so dependent on one another that they could be the same person. The repetitive cycle of their lines soon becomes irksome, however, as the script loops round and round like a broken record and the inspectors try to link bizarre and apparently unconnected facts together. The traffic jam on Sycamore Street of the title, for example, is referred to on numerous occasions as if a crucial factor that could in some way contribute to the case of the finger – but it frustratingly has nothing to do with it in the end.

The Liverpool University students’ decision to do an abstract piece is perhaps overambitious, considering that a surrealist abstract style appeals to only a very specific audience. A Traffic Jam On Sycamore Street should be taken at face value. It is an example of keen young actors that have come to the Fringe with a show of which they are inordinately proud.

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