9th February 2016
The People's Theatre's first studio production of 2016 is a challenging one - both in terms of the content and the production process, eight actors, three directors, eight monologues, one play.
Eight, by Ella Hickson, was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 2008 and the monologues are of that time - they deal with the bombings of 7.7, the post Thatcher demise of the Conservatives, the War on Terror. But almost ten years on they still have an impact because they are also about the people, young people, struggling to fit into a world that seems increasingly alien to them. We have injured squaddies, broken homes, criminals, financial whizz kids, single mothers, teenagers learning about life in the adult world. Each one of them a misfit, just trying to find their place in a world that doesn't seem to want them, into which they have to justify their place.
The stage setting is simple - a black background, with eight shutters and in the first act, a black block. Characters appear from behind the shutters to tell their tales. The block serves as a bed - in a mortuary, in a French Riviera guest house, in an adulteress's bedroom. At times other people - or bodies - occupy the bed to illustrate aspects of the tales. As each tale is told a shutter is turned to reveal an illustration representing their story. The only spots of colour in the blackness, though they are not necessarily bright. In the second act the bed has gone and more props are introduced - a table and chair, or nothing at all in the case of Miles and Buttons who simply pace back and forth on the blank stage, with this shutters turned to show the graphs and figures of a business high flyer, and the cell door of a criminal about to be released.
The direction is seemless, despite there being three different directors. The play comes together as a whole and there is a symmetry in the way the stories unfold.
The performances by the young actors are powerful and moving. Their characters are complex and their situations difficult. It would be easy to dislike them, and yet there is a redeeming fragility about each one - sometimes only a glimpse, but there. There is humour - black, black humour - and passion, and horror. Innocence is lost, and guilt is hidden. There are arguments, dishonesty and self-delusion, and honesty and openness and fear.
These are dark tales. They will make your flesh creep, and your heart ache and by the break for the interval you will wonder if there is any hope at all for these young people and their world - every moment of joy or hope is countered with even greater bleakness. But you will also laugh out loud, and you may possibly leave on a note - faint and tremulous - of hope.
Powerful, engaging and brilliantly performed and produced.
Eight plays until Saturday 13th Feb. There are still tickets available. Buy one.
Photo by Paula Smart