24:7 Theatre Festival, New Century House, Manchester
Strangely for a play called Anonymity in which none of the characters divulges his or her name, all of the characters are named in the programme. But then anonymity is only one element rather than the central focus of this strongly Pinter-influenced play.
Brendan and Al are two workmen laying down pipes in the basement of a building, late at night, but there are suggestions that this is for a sinister, destructive purpose. The men have never previously met and are not allowed to give their names, and there is some dispute over whether the boss's name is Les or Len.
Al is clearly experienced and skilled at this kind of work, whereas Brendan bluffs his way through and steals Al's tools behind his back. There is the added element of the two diagonal chalk lines across the room which neither man is allowed to cross, although they can pass objects by placing them between the lines.
After many petty squabbles, the men are shocked by the appearance of Cleo, a young woman who says she lives upstairs and wants help with her broken boiler. Is she going to get caught up in whatever they are there to do? Or is she the target? They both interact with her individually and she causes further tension between them.
The absurdist situation is rooted firmly in surface realism in situation and dialogue, just like Pinter, but there are a few elements that seem to be mysterious for the sake of it or raise too many questions that distract from what is happening.
Why the odd rule about not crossing the line when it clearly hampers the progress of the job they are there to do? Why is Brendan apparently trying to delay the progress of the work—in fact why is he there at all seeing as he doesn't seem to know what he is doing?
Having said that, writer Gareth George, who also plays Brendan, writes snappy dialogue and keeps the situations interesting enough to keep the attention. It's quite an entertaining piece, very well performed by George with Joe Bateman and Elinor Dixon and directed at a good pace by Madeleine O'Reilly. Toby J Maddison composes music that is sometimes effective in scene transitions but sometimes intrusive into the realism of the scenes.
It's a piece that wears its influences on its sleeve and doesn't entirely convince with its premise, but it holds and entertains the audience for most of its hour slot.
Reviewer: David Chadderton