BORDERS by Henry Naylor

Wed 2nd – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Helen Chatterton

at 10:15 on 5th Aug 2017

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Borders comes to the Fringe from two-time winner of a Fringe First Award, playwright Henry Naylor. It would be no surprise if 2017 leaves him with a third award. Centred on the conflict in Syria and the role of graffiti, the production is a captivating exploration of the role and responsibility of the media.

Opening on a largely bare stage, with no backdrop and just a few stools, the sole two performers, Graham O’Mara and Avital Lvova, have only themselves to deliver a play which actually gives dialogue to a whole host of characters. Both should be praised for the ease with which they accomplish such a task. Similarly, the way in which the cast used their bodies to portray their actions, such as the spray painting of a statue, and the motions of being in a car, and later a boat, was highly skilled and effective. While the performance was not free of verbal faults, this is sure to be ironed out as the run continues.

The selling point of Borders is undoubtedly the writing of Naylor. His inspiration was drawn from an invitation to visit the UN (a consequence of the success of Naylor’s previous play Angel), where Naylor and Lvova met Syrian refugees. Whilst the dialogue was at times novelistic, the imagery found in the dialogue was second to none. I would love to see it adapted for film, as the production did rely heavily on the audience’s imagination.

Whilst not a true story, the content of the production is jarringly relevant, despite being placed a few years in the past. The play should also be praised for its honesty surrounding the hype built up around Osama bin Laden. There was a memorable quote stating he had “all the charisma of a town planner”. The self-aware observations made about today’s media, where Kim K is given more publicity than the death of innocent children, and giving stage time to a heavy but highly important matter were equally praise-worthy qualities of this show. However, a minor gripe with the production was that some jokes, such as those aimed at Kerry Katona, felt a little cheap.

Initially, the structure of Borders, placing two monologues side by side on stage, seems random. It raises the question of why these two stories are being compared. However, the answer to this soon becomes clear. The contrast of first world issues versus the need for survival in the midst of civil war adds another layer to the discussion raised by the production. Hugely moving and dramatic, the conclusion was successful in leaving the audience contemplative over the issues raised.

In line with the simplistic setting, the basic lighting was efficient and did not distract from the action. However, the switch to blue lighting to indicate being at sea felt unnecessary, as the location was clearly portrayed by the actor’s physicality.

Seeing the positive reaction of the audience and other Twitter users, I would have no reservation in recommending this show as a must see of the Fringe, but be warned, tickets are likely to sell out quickly.

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Ela Portnoy

at 11:51 on 5th Aug 2017

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A two-hander drama, ‘Borders’ skips between the lives of a Syrian rebel (Avital Lvova) and a British journalist (Graham O’Mara) as they try to change the world. Weaving a story in monologues, the two characters struggle with the role of activism within art – one is a painter, the other a photographer. Put simply, the show is good, but not mindblowing. A two-hander made up of monologues needs seriously good actors to hold the stage. This is no mean feat. With only two stools around them, the actors’ successes are mixed.

But there are diamonds in the haystack. Two scenes of Lvova’s stuck with me in particular. The first was verbal gunshots which rose in intensity to a crashing orgasm. The second was her sobbing and lying broken at the end. At both these points, I was about to cry, but – and this is an important but – Lvova didn’t take the emotion far enough. There was real potential in her acting, but she never really let loose. In general, both actors could do with more dynamic contrast. Taking time with quiet moments and allowing surges of emotion to come will create energy and interest. From the beginning, the piece was pitched at a slightly hysterical level, and this made it less varied and engaging.

This is where O’Mara shone. In one moment he took a second of silence, looked at the audience and was still. When the next line came, it was a bomb. His change was subtle, almost accidental. But that line caught me and made me want to see more. O’Mara’s character was not very developed in the writing. Switching between characters in a snap, O’Mara was fantastic, yet there was no moment of vulnerability like there was for Lvova. In a two-hander made up only of monologues, you need displays of emotional depth to empathise with a character. One thing that stunts the writing is that there are no pronouns in the play. Sentences are always quick; ‘can’t’, instead of ‘I can’t’. I can see why the writer did this as most of the time it lends urgency to the piece. But the technique is used too much and instead of being dynamic, it makes the play forced, repetitive and rushed.

Apart from this, the choice to have minimalistic set and lighting and only two actors is bold. The simplicity teases out an interesting side to the subject-matter and the moments of contrasting lighting amplify the emotional parts of the piece. I have to add that I am in a minority with regards to my opinions. Most of the audience loved it. When I caught Lvova (who was lovely) for a chat after the play, a woman came to say how much she enjoyed it, and I can see why.

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