Escape The Scaffold

Titas Halder

The Other Room, Theatre 503, Mongrel Thumb

The Other Room at Porter's, Cardiff

From 19 April 2017 to 06 May 2017

Review by Othniel Smith

Escape the Scaffold is the third and final play in the broadly outsiderdom–themed Outliers season at The Other Room.

Arriving in Cardiff following a run at London co-producing venue Theatre 503, and written by Titas Halder (who directed Sinners Club, the first play in the season), it is that rare thing in theatre—a “political thriller” which provides political insight alongside narrative intrigue.

The action commences with a visitor arriving at the comfortable home of Grace and Marcus. He is Aaron, an old friend, who has been on the run after displeasing the government. As we are taken back and forth through time, it becomes clear that the relationship between the three is a complex and long-standing one, marked by obsession, delusion and betrayal.

One motor of the plot seems to be the unlikeliness of friendships forged at university. During flashbacks, we observe the uncomfortable chemistry between Rosie Sheehy’s Grace, a girl from rural Wales; none-more-upper-middle-class little Englander Marcus, played by Charles Reston; and Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge’s Aaron, the son of apparently prosperous African former refugees.

As students, they make their plans, in the home rented by Marcus, who seems set for a comfortable Establishment berth. Aaron, on the other hand, is a radical, intent on fomenting rebellion (for example by disrupting a visit from a recognisable, ostensibly respectable right-wing extremist). Grace has artistic ambitions, and seems torn between the settled existence offered by Marcus, and the excitement and instability of Aaron’s activist lifestyle.

Events dictate that she opts for the former, as the political situation develops such that while Aaron is forced into exile, Marcus acquires the means to purchase their large student house. Aaron’s return, however stirs up old, conflicted emotions; violence and double-dealing inevitably ensue.

Mark Bailey’s elaborate set immediately convinces as the vaguely spooky vintage domestic interior, complete with sticky doors and staircases leading to dark places. Katy Morison’s flickery lighting design reflects Grace’s uncertainty; Chris Bartholomew’s music and sound design, however, are unambiguously sinister.

The characterisations are pleasingly complex: Blackwood-Cambridge’s Aaron possesses an old-school suaveness which belies his radicalism; Reston’s Marcus is the embodiment not so much of the banality of evil, but the haplessness of political expediency; and Sheehy is compelling as the apparently easily impressed farmer’s daughter who may well be transforming into Lady Macbeth.  

Halder’s witty and fluent script is redolent of a West End thriller, although underlain with the quiet anger of something more sneakily subversive (cf Wallace Shawn’s The Designated Mourner). Director Hannah Price presents the moments of (un)easy, alcohol-fuelled camaraderie and shocking violence with equal stylishness; and the scene-change montages are a very nice touch.

There are moments hinting at supernatural goings-on which seem an odd fit with the broadly naturalistic tone of the piece. Nevertheless, Escape The Scaffold manages to both charm and challenge over its two-plus hours, providing much to reflect upon.