The Split Second

Sun 21st – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

Imogen O'Sullivan

at 09:51 on 23rd Aug 2011

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The impressive and striking set as the piece opened showcased polished production values that are rarely budgeted for in student productions. Four cut-out walls set each scene, shaped like they could slot together as the lives of the four characters are woven into each other. However, as each block swivels to reveal a mirrored backing, you begin to realise that they don’t represent unity, but the shattered fragments of a glass windshield and the shattered lives that are left behind following ‘the split second’ of impact.

I couldn’t avoid a sense of slight apprehension as I noted the section of wall plastered with ‘lad’s mag’ images, fearing a poorly written, Skins-inspired piece on teenage ‘issues’ and the hedonism of youth. I was pleasantly surprised by an honest performance of a funny and thought-provoking script that, although a few false notes were sounded along the way, in general rang true throughout.

Occasionally, particularly at the beginning, the piece did stray into slightly awkward and contrived ‘look what teenagers lives are like’ moments, but the split second the climax of the story was reached, each actor showed impressive emotional depth, engaging an unfortunately small audience and genuinely encouraging them to think differently about mass mourning.

Rob Mallard put in a performance of impressive emotional depth and maturity as the protagonist Jake, posing the very relevant question of who is to blame for fatal accidents and whether the label of ‘victim’ can be awarded to more than just the deceased. This question is highlighted by the effect the accident has on Jake’s friends and family; Mark Newsome’s Sean blaming the boy who walked out into the road, whilst Norah Lopez’s Hannah has to deal with her father placing the blame directly on her boyfriend whilst she is left feeling just as responsible.

Newsome shines throughout with exceptional comic timing succeeding in creating a likeable and recognisable character from what could have been a two-dimensional cliché, Lopez is also strong, particularly in conveying the naivety of young love. Her onstage relationship with Mallard’s Jake is undoubtedly difficult to portray realistically and occasionally feels somewhat awkward, though both actors throw themselves into a brave attempt. Sarah Nelson provides some nice comic moments and the mother/son interactions between her and Mallard are genuinely touching, though not as subtly nuanced as Nelson’s impressive show of confused grief and anger as the play concludes.

As a study of ‘the split second that changed everything’, this piece succeeds in cleverly changing the way you think about a bunch of flowers left by the side of the road and makes an interesting point about the outpourings of grief scattered around social networking sites that are used to vent anger and point blame. As the mirrors swivel to face the audience, we are made to stare at ourselves, the way we react to news stories, the assumptions we make, a powerful ending to a piece that allows us to truly see another side of the story and examine the possibility that ‘the split second’ could have occurred in any one of our own lives.

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Bethany Knibb

at 11:10 on 23rd Aug 2011

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In a split second someone’s life can change. Oldham Theatre Workshop presents the split second in which one boy loses his life, and various characters' different perspectives before and after the event.

A boy, his mother, a friend, and a girlfriend – they’re all “people like us”. They live their lives as many do, keeping their heads down and assuming that that’s enough to get by. This is reflected in the often banal dialogue, which tries to be funny (for example, “I’m amazed I turned out normal with a mother like you" / "You’re adopted”). This sort of comment usually got titters from the audience but the flash-forwards showing the characters after the boy’s death kept the mood too sombre for anything more hearty.

The set was unusual but absolutely ingenious. Four rotating screens gave, at any given moment, either a mirror (actually quite distracting if you’re sitting directly in front of one) or a wall of a scene (kitchen, bedroom etc.). The screens worked very well with the nature of the script because they aided the fluidity of the production. It’s often difficult when a production jumps around in time to keep the action fluent, but this is something Oldham Theatre Workshop did very well.

On the surface, this is a story about a teenager. The boring bits are a wee bit boring, but are important for the development of the characters. As the production progresses it becomes more than a story about a boy and in fact, by the end of this piece of drama, I had to purposefully relax my face because of the power of the emotion conveyed. Afterwards, you think to yourself – this sort of thing can and DOES happen to normal people, and the effects are pretty devastating.

“The Split Second” is a piece of writing by award-winning Sarah Nelson, and the direction and casting of this production have produced a truly moving piece of drama, highlighting the transience of life.

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