Prettier Things

Mon 14th – Sat 26th August 2017

reviews

Tamsin Bracher

at 10:05 on 23rd Aug 2017

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‘It’s all part of the performance … watching you, watching me …’

From the producer of the ‘mind-blowing’ show, ‘The Master and Margarita’, that ran at the Fringe last year, comes ‘Prettier Things’ – a strikingly pertinent, beautifully constructed and incredibly hard-hitting piece of original theatre. Performed by a two person strong cast, Jack Waterman and Chloe Weare alternately tell the story of how ‘bus girl’ meets ‘bus boy’. The premise is clichéd on purpose (it ‘writes itself doesn’t it?’, Jack Waterman asks at one point), serving merely as a framework through which to explore the ‘male gaze’. The ‘boy meets girl crap’ powerfully deconstructs the relationship between the viewer and the viewed. And with a Trigger Warning on its programme (‘TW: emotional abuse’) ‘Prettier Things’ is both a disturbing and staggeringly emotive spotlight on the fragmentary effect of masculine entitlement. Sublimely lyrical and darkly humorous, the show is a must-see in Edinburgh this August.

‘It’s all part of the performance … ’

In interview, Doug Will Do Theatre Company describes how they wanted ‘to create something that challenged the conventions of ‘boy meets girl’: a narrative which often romanticises problematic male behaviour’. With searing clarity, Chloe Weare depicted the way in which women internalise the notion of ‘appropriate’ feminine behaviour – ‘smile or they’ll tell you too’, ‘it’s like a presentation’, ‘still smiling for them …’, ‘heaven-forbid I spill into more than a two-dimensional character’, ‘… always smiling for them’. She is forcefully aware of her own image, ‘what an aesthetic’, and forcefully aware that society’s pattern of determinism is steadily fracturing her inner self.

‘… watching you, watching me …’

The production achieves a strong sense of opposition through a variety of mediums – between the male and the female, the subjective and the objective, the powerful and the vulnerable. Concerned with the different ‘Ways of Seeing’, Jake Waterman starts the performance sitting amongst the audience. While he talks he stares at Chloe, who remains seated on her chair for the majority of the show. As our eyes follow his, we too are made complicit in the ‘male gaze’. It is terrifying how quickly the girl at the front of the stage becomes an object; and I wonder at what point the rest of the audience began to sense the more ominous undertones that permeate the play. Moreover, Chloe and Jake’s professions, students-come-writer and photographer, offer alternative ways through which to view the world. Set in the Number 43 bus, ‘Prettier Things’ pays tribute to that place where the private and the public converge.

‘It’s all part of the performance … watching you, watching me …’

The play develops with sinister foreboding and increased intensity as Chloe and Jake pick up one another’s words and pass around the dialogue. Comments that Chloe’s wears her hair long because her ex criticised a mark on her neck, that the novel she reads on the bus serves her ‘dishevelled romantic’ look, that the men who watch her consider ‘how best to shade [her] in’, all pile up urgently. The illusion that Chloe and Jake command is so all-consuming that I too start to feel the prickling sensation of eyes behind me, boring into me, seeing through me.

‘It’s all part of the performance … watching you, watching me …’, ‘the bus wasn’t safe anymore’, ‘I just wanted to be left alone’, ‘to control […] my own image', ‘I got a taste for bloodied lips’ …

‘Prettier Things’ is not a faultless performance but the power of the production is unequalled. Thought-provoking and superbly acted, it deserves fifty minutes of everyone’s time.

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Darcy Rollins

at 16:40 on 23rd Aug 2017

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"Oh you pretty thing!" A comment many a woman has received under the veil of a compliment and yet reduces her to a "thing" like a hat, chair or anything inanimate, devoid of agency and breakable. 'Prettier Things' takes this 'compliment' and exposes its roots: the underlying misogyny. It then shows the dangerous places such thinking can lead to. And it does all of this without lecturing, without telling us what to think, but through a simple but compelling story.

Boy and girl see each other on the bus and their eyes dance, looking up and down in that flirtation as old as public transport, or the romantic comedies of the 90s.This happens again and again and suddenly you feel that something sinister is lurking underneath these chance encounters. This idea is simple but ingenious. It must be pointed out that if one thing was weak about this production, it would have nowhere to hide. Two chairs and two actors, Chloe Weare and Jack Waterman, are the only things on stage and there's far more talking than action. Considering this, I feel confident in saying this is a remarkable play.

The writing is incredibly smart. The words written by Annie Williams show us the complexities of misogyny and emotionally abusive behaviour all while making the audience laugh and creating real characters. A perfect example of this lies in how the script describes the girl's and the boy's interests. She speaks self-deprecatory of "iPhone notes full of scraps of ideas" while he waxes lyrically about "invest[ing]" in the people he photographs. This moment for me embodied how men and women tend to view their abilities, one conditioned for confidence, one for self-deprecation. There is also a real beauty to them: "your vision of idealised chaos." A beauty that serves to deepen the power of their meaning: "He would crawl into the cracks left by the fist of another man." To have all these qualities done well in one script is unique.

These words, excellent as they may be, would fall flat without the talents of Weare and Waterman. Weare is at once intelligent, witty, full of anger and self-loathing. She also is very talented with comedy, at one point, making nearly all the audience laugh with just a look. The comedy is more than merely enjoyable. I got the impression that there was a real point the play was making about how laughter operates as a defence mechanism for the darkest of things. Much like ‘Fleabag’ and ‘FAG/STAG’, both at the Fringe this year, this is another show that demonstrates the powerful alchemy of comedy and dark emotions. The twist from laughter to shock that the audience experience in this show is equally poignant, reflecting how dangerous situations can sometimes occur for women. One moment, they’re laughing at someone’s slightly clichéd methods of seduction the next they’re in danger.

Waterman is completely credible in his role as the ostensibly harmless boy. He skilfully builds from snarky to bitter to venomous, from comments about “the painfully vacuous” selfies of his ex to being truly threatening. At an early point, he feels like someone you've met before, that guy with contempt underneath their comments about what certain girls wear.

This play is original, riveting and important. It does not tell, but shows us the danger that underlies words.

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