Vagrant

Tue 20th – Sat 24th November 2012

reviews

Marta Codello

at 00:40 on 21st Nov 2012

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It is undeniable that for anyone living in Oxford the polyphony of the homeless takes a lot of getting used to: it goes against our natural sympathetic instincts to ignore the numbers of fellow human beings in distress, constantly trying to attract the passer-by’s attention to ask for money for the shelter, food or perhaps a dose, possibly by selling the Big Issue. And indeed coming across some of these very men and women on walking out of the BT tonight made me shiver, proving that 'Vagrant' had rang true at its core.

This being said, I could not help but feel that, not unlike the lives of its main characters, Alexander Darby’s creation is a pièce of many highs and lows.

The first mention goes to Barnaby Fishwick who gives a staggering performance as the tormented and ultimately defeated Ivan. Everything from his accent to his convulsive movements and mood swings is completely believable and real. So accomplished is Fishwisk's performance that it sheds light onto the lesser merits of his fellow cast members. Eliza Easton as Lara starts a bit insecurely and progressively improved adding more depth and reality to her character. This might be due to those instances in the writing where the dialogue feels somewhat unnatural; the same writing, however, is also successful in delivering moments of poetic truth, my favourite being Lara’s comment on Ivan: 'sometimes you could hear the overtones of what he really was'.

Bridget Dru as Lara’s sister, Isobella, is perhaps not given enough time to flesh out her stage personality, resulting in a bit of a weak character throughout, even though very expressive at times, especially during the ending scene.

Zoe Bullock's Tracy is also a bit bland, and not always completely believable as a homeless woman, but convincing during her monologue when her accent is more consistent.

The structure of the play is interesting in its documentary/interview format even though the scenes accompanied by the voice-overs tended to drag a bit longer than necessary and had a few unconvincing choreographed movements. More choreography might have instead helped in integrating the scene changes into the play.

On the technical side, lighting and sound devices (designed by Edward Horner and Nicholas Howley respectively) were skillfully used: they effectively added to the tone of scenes and made the intended mood very straightforward for the audience. The use of a spotlight for the interviews was particularly successful in focusing the house’s awareness of each character’s individual experience.

The design (by Emma Glaser) did just what it’s supposed to do, especially in a space like the BT: it clarified the spaces in which the various scenes took place by being realistic, suggestive and creative at the same time.

One easy-fix that the production team might want to consider concerns the costumes which simply need to look more well-used on the homeless and Lara to add further credibility to the characters.

'Vagrant' is a play with its heart in the right place that advocates a strong and significant message. An appeal for equality is extremely relevant to Oxford and also bears a much wider resonance. With a very clear sight of what it's telling, then, this play needs to optimise its ways of showing in order to become a stronger and more professional piece.

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