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Fault Lines

by on 19 December 2019

Triumph from Disaster

Fault Lines

by Ali Taylor

Questors at Questors Studio Theatre, Ealing until 4th January

Review by Emma Byrne

“What’s Christmas without a disaster?” asks the tagline from this show, in which the geological and the personal combine to create the backbone of a funny, often touching, play. The epicentre of the action is a small and struggling UK charity, desperately trying to make an impact in the aftermath of an earthquake in Pakistan. Oh, and it’s Christmas Eve.

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From ill-advised office party antics to well-meaning attempts to supply the first tents in the disaster area, the staff of Disaster Relief face a four-day reckoning that registers at least a five on the Richter scale: the effects are felt well beyond the epicentre.

Without giving away the plot, the comedy here is in a similar vein to the humane satire of Drop the Dead Donkey: whatever goes wrong is more likely to be the effect of cockup rather than conspiracy. There’s also something of Alan Ayckbourn’s Life and Beth here too: reactions to tragedy aren’t always as expected, which makes for cracking dramatic tension as well as some comedy moments.

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Playwright, Ali Taylor (and director Gary R Reid) set out the four protagonists, Abi, Nick, Ryan, and Pat in act one and, without being too heavy on exposition, they sell the stakes nicely. But if act one is the wind up then act two is the punch: high-stakes choices made amid rapid-fire cross talk, delivered with fantastic fervour by Will Langley (Nick) in particular.

FaultLine12The piece has to be an ensemble to work, and there were lots of generous choices on stage. Questors newcomer Callum Dove (Ryan) does great background character work throughout, adding depth without ever pulling focus. Ryan could have been played as a bunch of nebbishy ticks, but Dove really sells Ryan’s awkward intensity in a way that is touchingly genuine.

Will Langley also makes some great choices when it comes to Nick’s effortless tone-switching between mockney man-of-the-people and media-schmoozing smoothie. Pamela Major’s Pat is a great portrait of someone whose idealism has been tugged slightly out of shape over the years – rather like a beloved but baggy cardigan. When she comments that Christmas is a great time for disasters, thanks to Major’s commitment it reads pragmatism plus idealism minus tact, rather than ghoulishness.

But it’s Neetu Nair’s Abi that has to carry much of the play’s weight. Abi’s personal and professional life are upended in the course of the play. The energy she brings is pretty relentless, but it is her resigned calm in act two that really allows her range to shine.

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This is a technically demanding play and huge credit must go to set designer Fiona McKeon, whose mismatched and slightly grotty office interior is almost a character in its own right. Credit, too, goes to the stage manager and crew who manage fourteen scene changes (with attendant jumps in time) with a slick precision that ensures that the energy of the piece stays high. The number of technical cues from the control box, from phone calls to breaking news on TV, would have flummoxed a lesser company. This well-drilled production never skipped a beat.

If you’re feeling jaded, conflicted, or disappointed this Christmas season, this production of Fault Lines is for you. While hilarious, it’s by no means escapist: the conflict between ideals and pragmatism has rarely felt more timely than after this recent election. But by identifying with these well-meaning, all-too-human characters who are muddling through, there is at least catharsis in the chaos.

Emma Byrne
December 2019

Photography by Robert Vass

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