Ships of Sand

Fri 5th – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

Lucy Eskell

at 09:43 on 21st Aug 2011

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It seems perhaps the best course of action here is to set the scene, as this was (possibly the only) strong point in ‘Ships of sand’. The Lyrebird theatre company assemble on an empty stage, each clad in identical horizontal stripes. Slickly choreographed movement is used to create a world in which everyone is oppressively the same. It becomes quickly apparent that Lyrebird present a formidable group dynamic, expressing excellent chemistry between members of the ensemble as they move together to spin their tale.

Unfortunately for such a finely tuned cast, the play did them no justice. It seemed the plot existed just to showcase their talent in ensemble movement, and lacked any clear point. The play centres around three friends who create a machine enabling them to travel into the world of their dreams. These dreams are acted out sequentially before the play abruptly ends with an apparent malfunction as the three decide to try the machine together. There is no great moral to this, there is no message or explanation as to why this occurred and there is absolutely no purpose to the play.

In the simplicity of performance the company fails to create any depth in the storyline or a vested interest in the path of the characters. In having no emotional attachment to the three friends or an understanding of their lives I found myself almost uninterested in seeing an enactment of their dreams, however well delivered it may have been. There were, in its credit, moments of great beauty in the choreography, noting particularly an underwater scene. However these sketches could not carry it through and it appeared stilted and uneasy. Some of the physical movement even appeared akin to a drama club warm-up for a play that fails to materialise.

As individuals the characters were overacted and exaggerated, which did gain laughs from the audience but added to the confusion of what this play was attempting to do or convey. The humorous parody of disillusioned workers did not allow moments that could have been touching to leave any mark.

The performance of Tushar Pandey as the inventor Miguel at one point shone out when he used the machine to see his ‘home’ (a concept from out of the blue, then left hanging and unexplained at best). This was the only time any of the characters came close to an act which rang true yet did not seem to fit in or bear relevance to the theme of the play. In terms of individual performances the three main characters were able to act, but unable to interact. The cast did not even react to each other but seemed to read from their internal monologue, shouting lines hollowly into the air.

Ships of sand is a dodgy stab in the dark at embracing the alternative in theatre. It is a visually pleasing piece, but I feel perhaps the cast neglected to take a step back in the process and ask some much needed questions of the plot. Lyrebird claims this play is for, ‘anyone who has ever felt confused with the world around them.’ And this is exactly how I am left feeling by the end.

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Imogen O'Sullivan

at 10:32 on 21st Aug 2011

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The grey, bleak image of an unremarkable city presented in the opening of this piece characterises an unremarkable piece of devised theatre, the saving grace found in original but underpublicised marketing and the clear amiable camaraderie of the cast.

The opening soundscape showcased the strong ensemble ethos of the production, which, both vocally and physically, was polished and impressive in places, though lacking in clarity and any compelling plot. The initial narration held a sinister quality akin to Chicago’s ‘Cell Block Tango’, which was sadly never followed up on. Although the concept of a bleak, capitalist state quashing any freedom or imagination has powerful possibilities, this piece had nothing new to offer and would have benefitted from a reduced plot in order to focus on the visually interesting physical elements which were where this ensemble’s strengths lay.

Whilst some of the stylised physical sequences may have felt very familiar to any involved in organised youth drama, this doesn’t stop them from being very well done; the timing of the ensemble was impeccable, clearly well rehearsed and choreographed. Unfortunately, the originality of direction apparent in the underwater scenes was hampered by an undeveloped and lacklustre plot.

Outside of the ensemble, individual characterisations were exaggerated archetypes that were well received by an audience who were able to see the funny side, particularly of Stella Kasoumpi’s caustic mother. Sarah Richard’s Julia had the potential to be a well-developed three-dimensional character but was hindered by a reductive script. The physical ability of the actors made the final merging of dream worlds the most affecting moments of the show; the contrasting views of Miguel’s family seen though his eyes and then the eyes of his friends was excellently devised, though the message that not everybody’s idea of a ‘dream-world’ is the same is not a strong enough concept to hold up the entire piece.

As Tushar Pandey’s Miguel states ‘this is bigger than the individual’, and it is in the ensemble work that this piece holds its strength, its weaknesses lie in plot. The home lives of the three protagonists could have been the base for an interesting dramatic character piece, whilst the physical sequences could have stood up thematically with far less plot, but combining the two left neither effectively explored, though it seems impossible to argue with the laughter of an audience who clearly shared the enthusiasm and zeal of a likeable cast.

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