About the Unsaid

Mon 21st – Sat 26th August 2017

reviews

Tamsin Bracher

at 09:08 on 22nd Aug 2017

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'About the Unsaid' is an acoustic short-form musical both written and directed by Oxford student Maria Shepard. It aims to explore the ‘interior monologues’ of its three characters, exposing the ‘difficulties in communication that every ordinary person encounters on their day to day’ – everything that is constantly ‘misread’, the pervasive belief that ‘certain things are better left unsaid’, and that all-consuming ‘vortex of small talk’. Unfortunately, the show seemed to fall victim to its own premise. The entire performance ran at surface-level and the simplicity of the plot (mother-daughter relationship; boy-girl flirting with possible love), could have been endearing but was instead oppressively linear. Its tiny cast, featuring Emelye Moulton as the protagonist (Lily), Alex Buchanan as her best-friend and crush (Josh), and Georgina Hayward as Lily’s mother, was severely restricted by the limited characterisation permitted by the play.

I walked out of 'About the Unsaid' feeling frustrated. In its attempt to highlight the disparity between what is thought and what is said, the show’s folk-inspired music offered frequent interludes into the character’s ‘real’ thoughts. The actor’s lilting acoustics and the charming combination of the violin, guitar and cello promised unpretentious honesty; however, the earnestness of the performance was stifling. The audience wasn’t given enough time to subscribe to any particular emotion. Consequently questions and phrases that should have packed a punch instead came across as fake and clichéd. Lily’s plea for her mother to open up, ‘Do you ever regret anything ever?’, is too quickly followed by her own despairing repetition of ‘it’s now too late […] it’s now too late’. A mother’s reassurance to her daughter that ‘you’ll get through this’, is too swiftly mimicked by Lily’s assertion, ‘you always seem so calm and composed’. 'About the Unsaid' tripped up on its own miscommunication; the form and tone sat at odds with one another, the tangle of interactions between actors were not properly developed.

The competing and contradictory voices that underpin the performance are, however, effectively demonstrated by the shifts in singing and dialogue, the smooth light changes and the pointed demonstration of the gap between the ‘public you’ and the ‘private you’. Staged in Venue 36 (the Space on North Bridge), Cosmic Arts’ set was simple and its costumes monochrome. I admire the director’s attempt to make a trivial plot the canvass on which to lay bare societal convention; it was just a shame that this triviality offered no focal point. Awkward and unassuming, 'About the Unsaid' was neither one thing nor another. It did not presume satire and yet it was not light-hearted enough for the audience to sit back and properly enjoy.

‘Everyday’, the mother bewails at one point in the performance, ‘is more uncertain than the last’. I hold out hope that 'About the Unsaid' might deliver something more tomorrow or the day after…, unhappily today there was not enough substance in either content or delivery to prevent the show from collapsing inwards.

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Katrina Gaffney

at 09:51 on 22nd Aug 2017

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I was expecting great things from 'About the Unsaid', after being blown away by Maria Shepard’s musical adaptation of Anna Karenina earlier on in the year. I must admit, my expectations fell a little short; 'About the Unsaid' was not quite the spectacular production I’d been hoping for. However, expectations aside, I still found that the gentle blend of a simple story and some great folk-inspired music made for a satisfying theatrical experience.

Following the life of a young woman named Lily, the show examines the consequences for relationships when things go unsaid. We see Lily (Georgina Hayward) and her mother (Emelye Moulton) struggle to communicate following the death of her father. Lily’s mother appears to have thrown herself into work as a way of dealing with her emotions and this puts a strain on her relationship with her daughter. Alongside this, the show also follows Lily’s relationship with her friend Josh (Alex Buchanan), both Lily and Josh have romantic feelings for each other but, at the beginning, they are too afraid to confess this.

I can see why some might describe this narrative as clichéd, however, I personally quite liked it. It might not have been the most original story but it was, nevertheless, one that resonated. I think lots of people can relate to the feelings of regret over things left unsaid and this reliability endeared me to the musical and its characters. The relationship between Lily and Josh in particular was one I was happy to watch; a large part of this can be put down to the tender chemistry between the two actors. I found both Hayward and Buchanan to be charming performers, delightful to watch.

One of the best parts of this show was the music, a completely new offering that was at times just lovely - I would be happy to listen to the score all over again. Hayward impressed me with her excellent voice, it was a voice that was perhaps even too big for the small venue playing host to 'About the Unsaid'. The other cast members also delivered some solid vocals, not without jitters but perhaps this can be put down to it being the show’s first performance. The live musical accompaniment was a lovely addition to the show and felt very appropriate. Although, I felt the presence of the musicians on stage was a directorial mistake - considering the small size of the venue there were times when the musicians served as a distraction from the story itself.

Considering the fierce competition when it comes to shows at the Fringe, I’m not sure if this production has quite done enough to make it stand out from the crowd. And yet, there were many elements I enjoyed, from the music to the acting, this show provides audiences with a pleasant hour of heart-warming story-telling.

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