Dan Rebellato, Lewis Hetherington and Emma Jowett
Devised by the company, Produced by Ric Watts and Analogue Theatre Company
The Ustinov Studio, Bath Theatre Royal, and touring
At the heart of this play is the devastating true story of Stephen Soans-Wade, who in 2002 tried (and failed) to persuade psychiatrists that he was a danger to others and asked to be sectioned and who a month later pushed a stranger, Frenchman Christophe Duclos, under a tube train at Mile End Tube Station. The story inspired emerging company Analogue to devise Mile End, in order to flesh out the lives behind the headlines, with a strong text by Dan Rebellato and his co-writers, and an innovative mix of clever staging and visual performance.
Kate (Hannah Barker) knows that her relationship with Alex (Sam Taylor) is in trouble. Michael (Liam Jarvis) lives alone and holds together his fragile mental health with routine and order. Early on you sense their status quo is under threat.
The look and feel of this show is undoubtedly a strength. It draws you in from the start: the largely monochrome set, slick multimedia staging and an arresting soundtrack (composed by Simon Slater) lend it a highly filmic quality. Three members of the cast, (Lewis Hetherington, Daniel Tobin and Emma Jowett) appear only as haunting black figures, faceless, in essence unseen: Fate, working stealthily to draw Michael and Alex to their inevitable end.
And here lies the chilling heart to this production: a bleak fascination with the futility of believing ourselves free to make choices; a grim acceptance of pre-destination. What appear at first to be disparate threads of story line are woven intricately and artfully to captivating effect; Alex's dreams are proven prophetic and Michael's worst fears realised.
This is a stunningly well imagined, innovatively staged production and for that alone it deserves its many accolades (a Fringe First and an Arches Brick award, not to mention five other major nominations at Edinburgh last year).
It's a disappointment, then, that the performances from the three lead actors feel under-developed, unconvincing. We watch the testy struggles between Alex and Kate, for example, but are never wholly persuaded by them. Visually arresting staging should work with strong performances and enhance not swamp them. One feels almost that the set works harder than the cast.
This is a shame as all the other ingredients are here: a powerful concept, visionary staging and a great story, brilliantly put together. With tighter, better paced performances and more focused characterisations this could be a spectacular piece of theatre.
"Mile End" runs at the Ustinov until 29th March, then tours to Scarborough, Uppingham and Millfield.
Reviewer: Allison Vale