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Tenancy

by on 1 June 2018

Beyond the Fringe

Tenancy

by C.E. Golding

So It Goes…Theatre, Hampton Hill Theatre until 2nd June

A Review by Eleanor Marsh

So It Goes.. Theatre was established in 2011 as a company specialising in new writing and radical adaptations of classics. They have a track record on the fringe and pub theatre circuit and now bring their latest offering to the leafy suburbs of Hampton Hill. There is a lot of the company and the play that screams “fringe” at the audience. No programmes, a very basic black box set, straightforward, no -nonsense lighting and costumes that have clearly been put together by the cast with no one to take an overall view or pay too much attention to detail. More of this later.

The tricky thing about reviewing a piece of brand new writing is that there are no comparisons to be made with previous productions. This is also the best thing about the task. Both reviewer and audience are forced to concentrate and remain in the moment in order to follow the plot. And this was a plot worth following. Clearly (as openly admitted by the author) autobiographical to a certain extent, the play focusses on a group of people living in the same house as tenants and landlord. We meet them first as one couple are moving out and another moving in. In Act Two we return to the same address some eleven years later. The house has undergone a radical extension programme, and everything has changed in the lives of and dynamic between the inhabitants.

Tenancy Reh !

C E Golding’s writing is sharp and funny, and the seven diverse characters clearly defined. The questions of whether we outgrow our past mistakes or are destined to repeat then come over loud and clear and are deliberately not adequately answered. Such is life. Oh to have known then what we all know now……

The first act, which introduces the characters and sets up the plot, works better than the second, which was slower to get going (without the aid of a programme it took a while to establish that we were now eleven years on and looking at the same people) and the play ended with a scene that was thought provoking on many levels – not least the question of what is real and what is in our imagination. In the right hands this play deserves a wider audience, but I’d question whether it might not work better as two one act plays to be played in rep.

However, the execution of the play in this production does not always do the writing justice. A lighter touch in both direction and acting would have allowed for far more and far more enthusiastic laughs from the audience. Except for Tom Thornton, the actor playing Ben, a failed actor with a failed relationship and zero emotional intelligence, the entire cast was so terribly earnest that they seemed to be unaware that humour not only gets most of us through most things ever day but that it is an excellent dramatic device for highlighting tragedy. What came across the footlights was that concentration had been paid so much to the inner angst of the characters that apart from set pieces such as the obvious “playing for laughs” singing of Irene/Eileen themed songs that director Douglas Baker had forgotten an audience was wanting to be entertained. All in all it seemed that everyone on stage was so desperate for the play to be a success that they just tried a little too hard to please. There may well have been a first night nerves element here, and the first night of a world premiere carries with it pressure like no other but nearly all of the cast looked uncomfortable and that, in turn made the audience feel uncomfortable. I’m sure that this issue will right itself as the run progresses.

It was an absolute joy to see the Hampton Hill stage used as a black box. This play was going to stand or fall on its writing and performances without any distraction and there is much to be said for allowing an audience the opportunity to use their imaginations. The “sets” of packing cases for the first act and sofas were simple but effective. Some of the costumes unfortunately did not work so well; an independent eye cast over what these characters would wear and to ensure that the costumes helped rather than hindered the actors in their portrayals, would I believe have made a significant difference to the veracity of the performances.

The overall production suffered from being a fringe play not being performed on the Fringe. An audience more in tune with fringe productions would have been less demanding in terms of signposting ideas and expectations of costume and set than one used to the comforts of a traditional theatrical experience in the suburbs. So It Goes…Theatre are hoping to take the play on tour and I wish them well with it. It is a darkly funny piece that shines a light on relationships, aspiration and those curve balls that life throws us all. It could go on to conquer many a fringe festival and I wholeheartedly support its efforts to do so!

Eleanor Marsh
June 2018

Photography courtesy of So Goes It … Theatre

From → Drama, Fringe, Reviews

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