Eight

Tue 5th – Sat 9th March 2013

reviews

Kate Strange

at 02:10 on 6th Mar 2013

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Eight of Oxford’s best actors perform eight monologues over four nights, creating and inhabiting characters ranging from a survivor of the 7/7 London bombings to a jolly hockey-sticks escort. Walking into the Burton Taylor, the audience are confronted with a near empty stage, save for a chair in the centre. Translucent plastic sheets hang from the ceiling, part concealing a jumble of shoes and clothes behind them. With a blast of white noise and the beeping of an airport announcement, the show begins.

It’s a promising start to a fascinating project. There are always going to be limitations with a piece constructed entirely of monologues: the actors can’t interact with each other, resulting in a slightly static sense, and the overall shape of the speech from each monologue to the next often follows the same pattern, from seemingly pulled together to the eventual moment of revelation. This show avoids these pitfalls however to create a piece of theatre which is held together by the outstanding acting at its centre.

Alice Porter as the aforementioned sex worker – or rather, supplier of ‘marital supplements’, as she prefers – is entertaining. Her role is perhaps one of the most difficult, skating as it does between gentle humour and absurdity. She has the tendency to sound somewhat one note, and the monologue’s climax, when it comes, doesn’t feel like a big enough pay off, but her depiction of thwarted dreams and delusion is admirable. David Shields and Millie Chapman both give performances that in any other production would absolutely steal the show. Shields, while taking a while to warm up, is impressive as the suited, highly ambitious broker who claims to have ‘won everything I’ve ever touched’ but appears to be unravelling before our very eyes. His is a performance so electric that it elicits the single word ‘wow’ in my notebook. Chapman is strong too – hugely committed to her role, there is something magnetic about her alone on the sparse stage, and the audience follow her every movement.

It is with the final monologue of the evening however, Andre (portrayed by Christopher Adams), that we move beyond the monologue as just an opportunity to showcase fantastic acting, and towards storytelling at its finest. As the art dealer and schmoozer who claims the only qualifications needed to succeed in his glitzy world of openings and unmade beds are to ‘talk bollocks at a million miles an hour’, Adams is hugely compelling. The swathes of polythene hanging from the rafters suddenly take on more significance, suggesting both the modern art he has built his life on but now bores him, and the haunting image of discovering his lover hanging from the ceiling by a silk scarf that he incessantly returns to. At turns waspish, then furious, camp, tearful, guilt-ridden and ultimately terrified, Adams turns in one of the strongest performances I’ve seen in a long time.

The piece isn’t entirely perfect. Articulation, particularly in Chapman and Porter’s monologues, can be something of an issue, with words cut off or indecipherable from those surrounding them. The set too is something of a disappointment, only really clicking into place in Andre’s monologue, and otherwise adding nothing to the overall sense of the piece. The transitions, consisting of a blur of white noise with suggestions of the next scene over the top, also seem somewhat unconsidered, but fit in with the play’s simple aesthetic. There is a sense that acting has been prioritised above all else, but when the results of that labour are so great, it feels churlish to criticise this. I came away feeling privileged to have watched such wonderful performances for only a fiver, and so when it comes down to the question of ‘is it worth seeing?’ the answer is an absolute, resounding yes.

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