Chapel Street

Mon 20th – Sun 26th August 2012

reviews

Lise McNally

at 18:21 on 23rd Aug 2012

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Joe and Kirsty are young kids with little to do in life other than look forward to the weekly night out. Theirs is a story which might be told all over the country, in thousands of morning-after debriefs. But ‘Chapel Street’ gives them the stage and shows how every story is worth hearing. Through a series of interlocking monologues and snippets of drama, Joe and Kirsty recount the events of a particular Friday night. Funny, frank and a little bit sad, the two protagonists tell their story in their own way, and in doing so, they step out of the grey monotony of their existence and are given a chance to shine.

Luke Barnes’ script is fine for the most part. Carefully tempering the comedy of these goofy young things by layering them against a backdrop of something infinitely more sad, there is a careful combination of tragedy and truth here and it works well. The problems of disaffected youth and social conditioning are explored through a “show not tell” format, and is far more effective for it. The few monologues which are allowed to give way to something more manifesto like are powerful in their isolation. Barnes treats these well-worn paths in youth theatre with sensitivity and a great deal of original flair, but there is also really nothing new in his subject matter. The ending in particular is depressingly predictable, and not particularly necessary: teenagers don’t need to fall pregnant before their lives are deemed to be unfairly lacking in options, and it is a shame to see this production fall back on one of the usual “issues” which crop up every year in GCSE drama showcases. The structure also needs a little work: Joe and Kirsty’s stories don’t combine until far too late in the production, leaving the talented pair of performers struggling against the monotony invited by the monologuing format.

As Joe and Kirsty, Cary Crankson and Ria Zmitrowicz are truly wonderful. Their brilliantly naturalistic delivery allows them to break out of the usually crippling limitations of monologue. Both performers maintain an infectious energy and bring an impressive variance to their vocal delivery. Holding their own for the full hour long performance, they demand (and merit) our constant attention. Zmitrowicz in particular is a transfixing narrator, whose malleable face and wonderfully subtle use of tone allow her to layer her character’s brazen, Vicky Pollard-esque exterior with something more fragile and sweet and sensitive. She is brilliantly funny, and totally engrossing, a real delight to hear.

Despite there being only two performers, Cheryl Gallacher’s direction makes expansive and wonderful use of the stage. As Kirsty and Joe tell their story, a heaped luggage trolley is wielded about the space serving as a convincing toilet, minicab and even as other characters. The visual display serves as an effective metaphor for the limited resources the characters can access, highlighting the restrictions placed upon the likeable, imaginative and lively young people. More hopefully, it also gestures to the way Joe and Kirsty can make something out of nothing and contributes to the overall charm of this sweet, sad and funny piece.

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Imogen O'Sullivan

at 01:09 on 24th Aug 2012

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Made abundantly clear by the spattering of ‘modern culture’ references that occasionally feel clunky and shoe-horned in, this is a story both about and for the modern age. This duologue showcases the talents of two exceptional actors; Cary Crankson and Ria Zmitrowicz, whose impressive skill manages to outweigh the fact that there is nothing in this piece that hasn’t been seen before. The most original touches come from their staging. A shopping trolley full of the classic ‘night out’ clichés - handbags, shoes, traffic cone, balloons, wigs - is utilised with innovative twists as a toilet, cream-covered bar surface, and taxi respectively.

Ria Zmitrowicz’s vocal and physical ticks add an individual touch to her character. Most compelling as a girl grown up too fast, and simultaneously like every teenage girl you’ve ever known, she is cleverly directed to unravel a subtext of insecurities into a microphone deliberately set far too high for her reach. When this script is at its best, it explores the culture of silence that still surrounds female sexuality. Zmitrowicz is endearing and perceptive as she explores the negative feelings of confusion and shame she associates with early sexual experiences. Also interesting is her struggle to deal with the understandable flattery she feels at the attentions of an older, more powerful man, embodying the exciting potential of being an adult. Whilst the ever-predictable consequences of unprotected sex in youth theatre productions are as ever-predictable as ever, Zmitrowicz’s portrayal explores the real and difficult decisions surrounding an abortion.

Cary Crankson embodies the youthful fear of mortality that encourages him to ‘live tonight like it’s his last’, and his endearing tale of a fundamentally decent person trapped in a repetitive and constricting life successfully evokes sympathy for the man trudging his way through the same pubs, the same girls, the same days. Both characters tackle the possibility that personal development of education and wealth are held back by the social constraints and expectations of ‘Broken Britain’, and their sexual relationship is powerfully displayed without needing to resort to gratuitous physical intimacy.

Touching on issues covering class, gender, sexuality and youth culture, where this piece falls down is in failing to say anything new. Education is a way out, teenage girls feel the pressure to be thin and to have sex, men feel the pressure to conform to society’s expectations of masculinity, everyone feels self-destructive, bored and powerless and many react by ‘getting smashed’, but these are things we should already know and take with a pinch of salt. Beyond the obvious talent of the cast, this piece is strongest in its resemblance to the angry, politicised theatre of the 1980s. Is the future in your own hands, regardless of class, or the hands of the government that rule you? With the gap between rich and poor widening, are we all, as Crankson’s monologue states, placed on a track that runs from the day we are born to the day we die? Whilst far from perfect, this is the kind of writing that I desperately want to see more of; reiterating the democratic power of theatre to unify its audiences in the desire for social change.

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