Double Edge

Tue 27th November – Sat 1st December 2012

reviews

Emily Devine

at 08:11 on 28th Nov 2012

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‘Disturbing’; ‘frank’; ‘trauma’: these are the words which hurl themselves from the synopsis of Zoe McGee’s ‘Double Edge’, a dramatic confrontation of the aftermath of a sexual assault, promising an intense experience perhaps best avoided by the faint of heart. Certainly, the sight on entering the dimly-lit theatre of a girl sitting cross-legged in the middle of the stage, nervously shuffling a pack of playing cards, with painted white face, unnerving dark circles beneath her eyes and a crown of silver wire, does little to banish the preconception that this production may pack a weightier punch than is usually palatable on a standard Tuesday evening. Sadly, while McGee’s play does indeed prove to be a work with an extremely promising framework of stylistic and directorial ideas, the raw brutality of the drama, for which the subject matter provides plenty of potential, is difficult to detect. Rather than packing a punch, ‘Double Edge’ seems capable only of managing a rather adolescent shove, albeit in the right direction.

That is not to say that there was a dirth of dramatic talent among members of the cast- quite the reverse. The stage presence and delivery of The Fool (Thomas Lodge) was captivating; the Girl (Lucy Delaney) was both convincing and compelling as the unstable victim; so chillingly reptilian was the performance of Gar, the perpetrator of the assault (Sam Ward) that audience members could be forgiven for avoiding eye-contact if they happen to pass him on Cornmarket. The Fool, whose script- in essence, a synthesis of Shakespeare’s Puck and a Greek Chorus- was riddled with carefully-crafted metaphor and intelligent wordplay, seemed almost out of place in the context of the rest of the drama. The contrast between his (almost but not quite overblown) theatricality jarred with the rest of the action- if ‘action’ is not too generous a term. Even the stylised black-on-white face-paint sported by all members of the cast but Gar and symbolic details such as the Girl’s wire ‘crown of thorns’ could not salvage exchanges such as those between she and her pained (and painful) Friend (Ollie Nichols) which seemed to play out, cyclically, on a monotone. Nichols’ attempts to convey his character’s emotional progression through stages of concern, passion, anger and mirth were valiant; they might have been more successful had he made greater efforts to alter either his facial expression or tone of voice (or, pushing the boat out, both). Perhaps this was an intentional feature of the Friend’s role, included to highlight the contrast between the simplicity of his ‘goodness’ and the toxic, exciting allure of Gar; nevertheless, it didn’t half cause his scenes to drag.

This having been said, the combination of Delaney’s heartfelt performance and the repulsively manipulative conduct of Ward carried the production smoothly through the first half hour with little cause for lapses in attention. The scene in which Waddles (the stuffed penguin prop worthy of mention on the Cast page of the programme and so clearly worthy of mention in this review) really did become more interesting than the onstage action was that which introduced Paige (Jazz Adamson), Two (Casey Bauer) and Eight (The Eight of Swords), the three ‘friends’ of the victim whose collective purpose seemed to be to highlight the potential for misinterpretation, divided loyalty and the spreading of rumours following a sexual assault. What they achieved, however, was a ‘Mean Girls’-esque spoof which was disappointingly deficient in ‘Mean’. The messages conveyed, particularly those regarding the complexity of providing evidence for such terrible cases as sexual assaults, were sound, yet their delivery lacked the venom which might be expected among a sparring group of undergraduate girls.

McGee would have done well to go the extra mile and develop ideas such as the playing card motif, which took pride of place in the cryptic (and, it might be added, rather unhelpful) programme and as a fleeting onstage prop but was left otherwise untouched, and the stylised make-up, costume and set design. Perhaps the ‘Mean Girls’ could have been transformed into twisted, fantastic creatures in the same vein as The Fool; this might have added more theatrical spark to their roles as the noxious twisters of words and facts, also rendering them more captivating and convincing than three mildly unpleasant girls with painted faces and blue hair. Equally, ‘Double Edge’ could become far more impressive visually were space to be used more adventurously, with movement beyond the realms of simply positioning the character speaking in any particular scene in the centre of the stage. In the same vein, perhaps the chilling ambience could be augmented through the inclusion of either on or offstage music.

Viewed as a whole, the show smacked not of a finished product, but as a work in progress. The few innovative and effective ideas, which were, undoubtedly, evident, were disappointingly buried beneath a layer of rather slow, mediocre dialogue and drama. Undoubtedly, the issues raised throughout the production were topical, valuable and valid, yet they did not hit home with the dramatic force they deserve. ‘Double Edge’ has the potential to be a brutal yet exhilarating play; for now, it can be described more accurately as an angst-ridden, Topshop-style sex education documentary.

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