Beats, a new play.

Wed 14th – Sat 17th November 2012

reviews

Adam Gethin-Jones

at 10:33 on 15th Nov 2012

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Emily Warren's Beats told the story of Jean (Lauren Magee), a troubled young woman driven to distraction by the bohemian lifestyle by which she is inevitably intoxicated. Thoroughly off the wall, this production gave a powerful exploration of self-destruction, inertia and the emotional pressures of turbulent familial politics.

The director certainly managed to evoke a vivid sense of setting, dissolving the walls of the Lee Simpkins Theatre and metamorphosing the performance space into art gallery, medical clinic and the various homes of the complex characters of this psychological drama. The set changes were particularly interesting, between each episode beret-wearing stage hands swiftly dressed each scene as the actor was still on stage. At points Jean interacted with them, presenting them them as the fickle pests of destiny, leading her from exhibition to hospital ward. It seemed as though the stage hands were the agents of fate, placing each article in its correct place only for it to fall into dilapidation as the each character subsequently interacted with the set. Indeed, the level of detail applied to the set was impressive, there was even a short introductory film: a montage of the faces of each character coyly smiling to nineties-beats. Additionally, the sense of setting was enriched by Warren's evocation of peripheral narratives, such as the concerned nurse objecting off stage to Cecelia's chain-smoking.

In the studio of a desperate artist we met Cecelia (Phoebe Hames), Jean's sister, who seemed to explore her slippery grasp of personal identity through her pretentious artwork, although at times Cecelia seemed equally mad if not more so than Jean. Oscar, Jeans 'friend', was intelligently played by Nick Fanthorpe, who managed to convey the shyness and reserve of the character, yet also subtly hint to the fact that there was more too this meek and mild visitor.

With regards to the narrative, it seemed as though the audience were being provoked to consider the nature of beginnings; each seemingly colloquial observation such as “Why are you here?” carried a discernible existential undertone. Warren, decidedly opting out of the popular vogue of in medias res, invited the audience to question her method of representation. This questioning struck a interesting parallel with Jean's inability to frame her own sense of identity. However, the story did at times seem a little predictable and drawn out, with twists which are completely expected and revealed long after the audience have realized. Towards the end of the play the plot seemed to lull as we saw a few short scenes of each character on the telephone. These scenes seemed arbitrary and drawn out and certainly made the frequent and meticulously detailed set changes a little laborious to watch for the sake of a couple of minutes of speech. Once we had got through the telephone conversations the audience was lead to a particularly dissatisfying conclusion, each character froze in tableaux, a technique which was resisting closure, yet also to some extent sense and purpose.

However, some imperfections in the pace of the plot are to be expected with a peace of new writing, and I didn't feel as though the predictability of Oscar's twist, or the lull towards the end of the show damaged to production too much. Overall, Beats was an enjoyable, interesting new play, with a tasteful soundtrack which kept me smiling as I left the auditorium with my complimentary CD, of course.

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