GAZING AT A DISTANT STAR

Thu 3rd – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Charlotte Lock

at 11:25 on 9th Aug 2017

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‘Gazing at a Distant Star’ is a new theatrical piece written by Siân Rowland, adeptly exploring the lives of individuals who have been affected by people who are missing or whom they have lost. This angle provides insight into an area that is not frequently seen, shining a light on the lives of those that have been left behind. Three different lives are depicted, with all three actors maintaining a permanent presence on stage; an interesting directorial decision by James Haddrell, which works surprisingly well. Each performer plays a series of different roles; and further distinctions between these new characters would have improved the overall effect and assisted in distinguishing between them. However, the lighting decisions proved effective, as Lizzy Gunby controlled the focus of the audience and the tone of the production through understated yet striking changes.

Jenny Delisle, Harpal Hayer and Serin Ibrahim must all be commended on tackling such complicated roles. Possessing incredible skill in their storytelling ability they made each moment captivating and deeply moving. They perfectly timed humorous comments making the sombre moments even more compelling. Each actor’s performance is unique and convincing; however, the pace could be slowed down, allowing the audience time to follow this wonderful piece of storytelling.

Part of the charm is in the slow unravelling of this story, as the audience gradually learns about each character and those that they have lost. Without being aware of the premise of the show, however, it is not obvious that the show centres on loss, with the impact of those they have lost slowly being revealed to have a momentous impact on their lives, regardless of the depth of their relationship. The success of the show lies in its focus on ordinary, everyday life. It does not attempt to portray overly elaborate events, but instead considers the impact of those lost on a normal level. This highlights how the pain is not to a passing phenomenon, but more of a continual ache which remains, regardless of attempts to dull it, whether preparing for a 5k run or relying on anti-depressants. A poignant and astute piece of writing by Rowland, which reveals how life continues following loss but is nevertheless severely and potentially irrevocably impacted by it, providing the audience with a fascinating insight.

This original script is intricately laced with lyrical passages, adding immense beauty and emotion to the production. Siân Rowland somehow manages to place us inside various scenarios of loss which are all intertwined in some way, all the while through a poetic and occasionally humorous style. A particularly touching line, ‘our DNA like ribbons tugging us together’, perfectly reminds the audience that loss does not mean forgetting. The production shows the strength of relationships and love, which persist even when anger and incomprehensibility may cloud people’s view. This production highlights the remarkable skill of Rowland in producing a moving piece which will stay with the audience long after they have left the theatre.

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Noah Lachs

at 13:42 on 9th Aug 2017

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‘Gazing at a Distant Star’ gives itself an enormous challenge. Jihad, psychological abuse, and alcoholism constitute some of the hefty narrative the play seeks to stage. It is a story where we don't encounter three of the major characters, where the three characters never properly meet, and where there is very little action. Despite the odds stacked against it, its execution is refined, and its results are impressive. Delicate writing, and rich characters, ensure the play is neither over-reaching nor dull; instead, it is highly moving.

Beneath the complex details of Dan’s flight to Syria, and Jane’s domestic hell, the play has two closely linked themes: alienation and loss. Karen (Jenny Delisle), Arun (Harpal Haver), and Anna (Serin Ibrahim) each lose somebody special. Through monologues and some brief sketches, they explore their grief, and their guilt. They delineate their respective processes of alienation from colleague, son, and sister, respectively. They also explore their own self-alienation due to the pressures put upon them, and amid their despair.

We are drip-fed information in the play, and before we learn about the staged characters lost loved ones, we are able to build up a deep understanding of who is onstage before us. They are highly identifiable characters and something within each of them will strike a chord with the audience: Karen is a single mum with an increasingly distant teenager, Anna is trying to get fit and is suspicious of her brother in-law’s conduct. Arun wasn't a cool kid at school, he is a second-generation immigrant and his parents want nothing more than his academic success. He must weather the pressure and ultimately deliver.

Indeed, Arun’s ethnic identity isn’t incidental. The play consciously explores xenophobia. Yet unlike so many plays at this year’s Fringe, this isn’t done with hammer-fisted Brexit bashing. Nor is it contrived or self-righteous. It is subtle and real. Arun’s mate is quick to apologise amid his tirade about immigrants: “Not you mate! I’m talking about those Poles coming here and taking the piss!” This kind of irony in xenophobic discourse will be familiar to most people. The Jihad plotline also necessitates the play to deal with themes of identity. When Karen recounts Dan’s unease at her “happy-clappy bible thumping type” comment, we don't imagine he’s gong to become a suicide bomber. And if we are being honest with ourselves, this is because his mother is white-British. The play subverts our expectations and challenges us with its topical undertones.

The play’s ending isn’t as robust as it might be; the characters we have grown close to sort of fade away. Nevertheless, this is an impressive production; an intense and topical slow burner that will captivate you.

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