Chastity on the Verge

Tue 28th May – Sat 1st June 2013

reviews

Sam Ward

at 23:04 on 28th May 2013

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0disagrees

Anyone hoping to stage an adaptation of a 13th-century French text and make it accessible and interesting to a modern audience truly has their work cut out for them. Lizzie Moore's production of Chastity on the Verge posted itself as both a comedy and a tragedy and indeed I left the theatre with heavy heart. Unfortunately this cannot be blamed on the tragic nature (or lack thereof) of the production, which came across as roughly put-together GCSE piece.

Upon entering, the audience is greeted by a somewhat bare stage. A lavish bed takes pride of place in the centre, and indeed fills up most of the floor, leaving very little space for the actors to move. Now perhaps this could be called a savvy decision; the bed dominating the stage so as to symbolise the sexual underscore of the entire piece. The fact that very little action actually took place on the bed however meant that Moore’s decision here came across as misguided rather than inspired. Indeed this was one of many strange directorial choices running through the piece. One could be forgiven for quietly begging our earnest narrator to just stand still, as she wandered across the stage aimlessly; or for wondering why Moore has decided to keep the stage partially lit between scenes, creating an agonising minute of awkwardness as the audience is forced to watch actors get into place. The most baffling decision of all however, is why Moore has chosen to have her actors mime out a variety of pieces of furniture (think pots, jugs and dogs) and yet presents us with an assortment of objects standing on a table that go completely unused! If one is to leave the stage bare (a red cloth over the back wall perhaps? A carpet?) then it seems strange to spend money on props that are never used, whilst leaving the actors to mime out an entire party!

In fact, the level of acting capability across the cast could be said to mirror the strange stage set-up: mostly bland and unexciting; with a few spots of comic excellence. Rachel Dickenson as the Narrator clearly had wonderful intentions, and Kate Bennett as the Duchess both simply lacked true conviction. One felt that our actresses were simply reading words on a page, without truly understanding what they were saying. I desperately wanted Dickenson to completely throw herself into the role; leap over that barrier of self-consciousness but alas, I was left unsatisfied. Bennett’s comic acting invoked a few chuckles at times, but when her technique seemingly rested on recycling movements and facial expressions from children’s television, there is only so much laughter one can generate. Her mouth moved to match the expression of the words but at all the times the eyes remained rigid and unconvincing. Indeed it is the failure of the comic clichés that highlighted the star of the show: Christopher Evans as The Duke. Although unconvincing as a tragic actor in his final moments, he truly shone as a comic actor, the laughter coming not from the obviously comic moments that aimed to be funny but simply from the character that he had clearly spent time investing in to make believable.

I do not enjoy writing bad reviews. In this case I find myself simply stating what it is I saw this evening. There is potential for this play to be a very funny, engaging piece of theatre. It simply requires the director to re-think some of her decisions, to spend more time creating a set that actually portrays where it is the story is set (and allows the actors some space to move), and for the actors to truly throw themselves into the performance rather than hold back and rely on comedy clichés. If the production team can successfully pull themselves together for the next performances, then I would recommend giving this play a viewing. If not, then it is certainly one to miss.

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