The Surface

Mon 13th – Sat 25th August 2018

reviews

Thomas Pymer

at 16:54 on 21st Aug 2018

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On the face of it, ‘The Surface’ sounds like it should be a very hard-hitting and interesting play, dealing with existing prejudices and human weaknesses in a post-apocalyptic setting. However, watching it, I could not help but feel that it let itself down on several fronts.

The main weakness was simply that the characters were neither nuanced nor especially believable. There was no character – from the feral Scavengers and Warriors to the megalomaniac and sadistic Julian to the seemingly pure but tough Seph – who has not already been seen in The Hunger Games, 28 Days Later or any number of other dystopias. It is not that they are bad characters (they are not), it is that they are too familiar. It would have greatly added to the play if the characters had been seen to have more depth beyond acting out their clichéd roles.

This also carried over into the songs: it was basically predictable what every character was going to sing and there was nothing in any of the songs that has not been in countless musicals before.

The other way the play could have been better would have been if it had unfolded differently in terms of plot and individual actions. It is difficult to imagine anyone who was truly desperate acting in the way that the characters do, with their emphasis on a code of honour and making decisions seemingly totally illogical to their survival. It would have helped if there had been portrayal of the actors slowly building up to the states where they arrived, rather than going from relatively calm and quiet to screaming at the top of their lungs in the same moment.

However, the performance also had many good points. The actors threw a lot of energy into their performance and I would be happy to see them again at some stage. The costumes were also extremely good, the dirty and torn costumes of the Warriors and Scavengers contrasting sharply with the pure white of the despotic elite. The songs were varied in theme and were sung well, with the same enthusiasm as the acting.

What was also clear in the performance was the message. There was a clear moral throughout of the problems that plague humanity today (abuse of the environment, sexism and classism) running the risk of perpetuating itself into the future. The violence and interactions between the characters, especially between the misogynistic Julian, his mother and his fiancée, really showed this, as did the slow unfolding of exactly what had happened to the world that had made it transform into the society the characters inhabited.

In all, the main failure of this play was the fact that it relied too heavily on clichés and unconvincing situations. The acting was good, the costumes were good, the message was relevant and present. It was not really a bad play. It was just a play that has, in various forms and components, been done too many times before.

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Jasmine Silk

at 09:32 on 22nd Aug 2018

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Leaving ‘The Surface’ it is difficult not to wonder what exactly the point was. It is not that the story is bad, or that it lacks potential. Rather, that in its current state it all rather feels like a musical version of something we’ve seen before.

It is firmly in the vein of 'City of Ember', 'Hunger Games', and the '100', but doesn’t bring anything new to the genre. The story is reasonably entertaining, but many of the characters feel like carbon copies; the villainous spoilt rich boy full of angst against his father, the generic poor post-apocalyptic factions fighting to survive, the not-so-bad rich girl who suffers from an arranged marriage and has to prove herself to the worse off people of her world.

That said, Emily Chattle gives one of the most compelling performances of the show as Seph, the aforementioned kidnapped rich girl, both in terms of her singing and her ability to command the stage. Unfortunately, not all of the singing was as strong, and there was no particular song that sticks in your head after it is all over.

When the show leans into the clichés it features, it is at its best; Seph’s melodramatic mother for example, or the strange hooded old lady who loves freddos, brought some genuinely funny moments to the show. Both are caricatures, but caricatures used to the best effect.

However, when some of the other characters become caricatures it can lead to an inability to sympathize with or relate to them. For example, the villain, Julian, who is Seph’s fiancée, has a reprise of Seph’s song about wanting to escape her parents influence and not be forced to marry Julian. This is the only moment where we can even try to sympathise with him, with the rest of the play making him so evil that he doesn’t seem human any more.

The concept itself has a lot of potential, and based on the description on the Edinburgh Fringe website I can’t help wondering if many of these problems could be due to the loss of some of the story due to cuts. For example, they describe the play as set in a world “where women are warriors and men are scavengers”, however this distinction appears to have vanished in their fringe production. It would also seem from their production photos that the show has changed significantly at some point.

The main problem is perhaps that this was a very ambitious show for a one hour slot, as they attempt to not only create a world but also address many major issues. Their description says it is “Touching on themes of gender inequality, caste discrimination and environmental awareness”. Whilst the well-designed costumes and set items create the world well, the show tries to tackle so many themes that a singular message becomes hard to isolate.

Ultimately, with some more work this could make for a very convincing piece. But in this instance, it just feels like all the pieces of this show don’t quite fit together.

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