Columns

Mon 14th – Thu 24th August 2017

reviews

Darcy Rollins

at 13:20 on 18th Aug 2017

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You walk into this play to a softly strummed guitar and the warm, welcoming smiles of Laura Day and Alex Hartley. This atmosphere never lifts during ‘Columns’ as the audience are told a tale of loss. The Wax House (the theatre company behind this show) aspires to create “welcoming” theatre and they definitely succeed. Yet, in spite of their talent, and, I think, because of their gentle approach, this production failed to hit me emotionally.

‘Columns’ is about disappearances. A world is created where things become a little unbelievable. In this world hinting of magical realism, parents disappear, buildings disappear and there are chance encounters in the street. These perhaps magical, perhaps not, occurrences take place in the lives of characters who are pleasantly eccentric, in that particular British way. Day and Hartley play several characters each and impressively embody each one distinctly, with different stances and different voices. Each character is lovingly painted. This is especially true for one of the protagonists Joe (Hartley), who lost his parents 2 years previously. His nervous disposition, exacerbated by the pain of parental loss, causes him to retreat from the world. There’s an affectionate mocking of Joe’s obsessive love of plant pots, and a hint at a more serious condition. I really appreciated how the writing, and Hartley’s acting, treated this character with such care. After the show, when I read that ‘Columns’ admirably has ‘relaxed performances’ on certain days to cater for those with autism, a learning disability or a sensory or communication disorder, it felt completely fitting with this very sweet show.

The fourth wall is broken early on in an interesting move that shows the creativity of this show but, for me, undermined the realism of the story. This breaking may be part of the reason the show lacked an emotional resonance for me. The main reason for this may be a difference of opinion in how some issues should be treated. Loss of parents is a theme that sears with pain and as such I wanted a production that knew how to hit hard. At no point, did we really see the pain of Joe, though I have no doubt Hartley would be able to portray this. Sophie (Day) had her own difficult parental relationship but, once again, the emotional depths of this were not shown. The hint of magic was integral part of the play’s charm but it hindered the drama. While magical realism can be poignant, it can make things a little ‘kooky’ and ‘kookiness’ hinders drama.

Day and Hartley are undoubtedly talented writers and actors who seem to truly care and think about their play. A small detail illustrated their acting skills for me; to show the stress of a moving crowd the two would walk past each other, twist as they passed.

As we were greeted by gentle guitar we are left with under-stated and beautiful singing by Day and Hartley. This is a lovely, kind production that treats its troubled characters with humour and empathy. I only wished these characters’ pain had been deepened so I could have really felt for them.

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Nina Attridge

at 13:22 on 18th Aug 2017

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‘Sesame Street’ and ‘The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night Time’ rolled into one, with a healthy dollop of something new on top - ‘Columns’ was unlike anything I’ve seen before. Apart from being the perfect training wheels for someone with a phobia of audience participation, it was a bizarrely therapeutic experience.

Rarely can the adjective ‘nice’ be boasted as a compliment- but in this case, there is no better description. The performers actively wanted to make you comfortable, they led you through the story with recordings of their own conversations about the planning of the show, and regularly broke character to make sure you had all the information you needed to understand and enjoy what was going on. It was like having two kids’ TV presenters hold your hand and lead you through their bizarre fictional universe, and at 10.55am my sleepy self was more than happy to be spoon-fed. The cubes which compiled the set mirrored the fluidity of the transition from narrator, to performer to character; and back again.

It was not ground-breaking, it made no controversial or exciting statement and the storyline was nothing new. But, to its credit, it did not-much with a lot of well-executed style. Jokes ranged from daft to clever and always produced the intended polite chuckle, and the lack of an aggressive idea being forced upon you meant the performance was a blank canvas onto which you could project your own experience. However, I only felt it really gave me the opportunity to do this right towards the end of the show, meaning that the different threads it was pulling for the bulk of the 50 minutes felt sometimes aimless. On more than one occasion I felt that they would have fared better running with one idea to give greater depth to the show. The duo was as comfortable on stage as they were with each other, and I truly felt that their role was to give me the tools to make the show whatever I wanted it to be. The closing song was a lovely melody with lovely vocals (the choice of such a bland adjective is deliberate), and while having no solid relevance to the story did not feel remotely out of place with the audio-visual massage that was the rest of the show.

If you need a break from the gritty and want an accessible watch- ‘Columns’ is the safe space you need to watch something inoffensive and charming.

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