Birthday Cake

Mon 14th – Sat 19th August 2017

reviews

Laura Wilsmore

at 10:53 on 16th Aug 2017

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This show is a powerful, thoroughly captivating insight into a devastatingly relevant issue of today. KCS Theatre Company took a real-life, unsolved stabbing of a teenager and delicately constructed a thoughtful exploration of the impact such an event can have on a human soul. Many lines in the show struck a chord with me as I had only recently heard them myself; worries that ‘we were just down that street’ and the fears that it will soon be ‘you, me, us’. As an audience member, I laughed, cried and was left wanting to consider what I had just seen more and more. This is what a standout Edinburgh show should achieve, and it does just that.

Daniel Bishop’s script delicately weaves storylines that invited intrigue as the pace and tone shifted from moment to moment. Certain monologues were pure poetical genius that were mesmerising to watch. Elizabeth Zibanova’s performance as PC Cartwright opened with a stunning piece of verse that proceeded to end with a brilliantly subversive line. The intelligent wit that Bishop uses to cut through the dense material is what gives the show such life and soul.

The large cast were masterfully coordinated for the stage by director Davina Barron. A ‘Save the Whale’ march takes you by surprise as the stage is stormed by the vast ensemble, circling and chanting ferociously. Every cast member was fully committed, making it a captivating watch. Barron’s delicate balance between intimacy and formality suggested that this story could be just one of many, lost in a sea of endless faces.

James Leach’s lighting design was central to the success of the show. Each transition was incredibly slick and guided the audience through the various storylines, frequently illuminating the gap of understanding that existed between characters. The four primary colours corresponded to the four central narratives, with symbolic costumes helping the audience distinguish between the numerous characters. Instead of feeling patronising, this conveyed the bitter sweet demise of a young person’s life. Along with a haunting soundscape, the show was a feast for the senses.

Luke Kelliher’s performance as Louis was outstanding. A kaleidoscope of a character, Kelliher had to switch his role scene by scene, evoking both great sympathy and pure terror in a short space of time. Louis was ‘like every brother I could have’, and Kelliher’s portrayal allows us all to recognise a part of his character. The four primary characters -Ben Millard (Ethan), Jack Lucas-Clements (Bee), Henry Calcutt (Daniel) and Sian Gibbons (Alyssa) - were equally spectacular and helped weave the show together. The only critique I can fathom is that with some of the minor characters, the desire to be subtle meant that the audibility was lost, but this did not detract from the overall effect.

The show crescendos to undoubtedly the most haunting rendition of the birthday song that I will ever see. KCS Theatre Company have explored a horrific topic with emotional sensitivity to create a heart-wrenching piece of theatre. The unconditional desire to want to know the reasons behind tragedies in the modern world is human, but keeping alive the memory of another life is what truly matters.

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John Livesey

at 12:46 on 16th Aug 2017

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KCS’ main quote in their advertising material comes from Whatsonstage who write ‘KCS Theatre have a remarkable Fringe record’. With Birthday Cake it looks like their successful streak is bound to continue. This is a play about young people and knife-crime. More specifically, it is a high-concept piece which experiments with form in order to show the disturbingly random and confusing effects of bloodshed. It is an incredibly exciting piece of theatre to see: clever, affecting and important.

The central plotline of this play follows a character called Louis. A teenager from London, Louis is involved in an altercation which leads to his murder. The show explores multiple lines of action which represent different interpretations of the events. There is much repetition and moments that seem to contradict each other, however, this constant ambiguity is the exact point of the production. Death, it seems to argue, cannot be simply explained away. Truth is relative and uncertain. There is always another perspective. The storytelling is fractured and disjointed, full of internal juxtapositions and contraventions and this is something that is to be embraced. The audience’s confusion as to what we should know to be real replicates the confusion of those close to Louis. Moreover, due to the show’s slickness, the sensation of bafflement never becomes overwhelming – instead energizing the performance and engaging us in an intellectually serious dialogue about the nature of violence.

Perhaps the key way that the director attempts to clarify the differing stories told is through their intelligent, and thoroughly-executed use of colour. Different characters, who know different sides of Louis, and thus pursue different explanations for his death, are bedecked in clothes of one of the 4 colours. In scenes where they interact with Louis, the lights also change to fit this chromatic scheme. It is a visually interesting element which is essential to the show’s clarity and its overall theme.

The play starts with the sound of sirens and the striking image of total blackness, the only light coming from phone screens from which four actors begin to read. The imaginative use of technology serves to indicate, from the very beginning, the level of ingenuity within the show. It is one of several moments which are wholly original and moreover incredibly powerful, haunting the audience long after they have left the auditorium. Others include a rock dance in Louis’ kitchen and later a scene of his friends crumbling cake as they mourn over his body.

Overall, the acting from the whole cast is of an incredibly high standard. There is a sense of authenticity in many of the performances which is extremely rare among such young actors. On occasion, some of the smaller parts let this authenticity come at the expense of audibility. However, these slips are nothing in the face of the impression many of the performances leave. Luke Kelliher as Louis is astonishing – perfectly showing his divided personality in a way which is subtle enough to show how other characters project their own intentions onto him. Ben Millard as Ethan also deserves high commendation. He brings energy and verve to the show and never falls below anything less than stunning realism. Leaving the show, one feels full of good theatre and thoughts. Few young productions have this much power.

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