The Play

Written and directed by Gavin Churnin
Padded Cell Theatre Company
Unity Theatre, Liverpool
(2005)

The Play pubicity photograph

Stuck for an idea for a play, playwright Danny is advised by his friend to write about their friendship. Stuck for a plot, he manipulates his friend and his friend’s lover with tragic consequences.

In his programme notes writer/director Gavin Churnin talks of his love of Film Noir, a name coined by French film critics for the cynical and amoral crime thrillers produced by Hollywood in the years following the Second World War. Churnin speaks of the atmosphere and tension Noir needs to have effect. The Play is a brave attempt, well written, but the production fails to do it justice.

The stakes are high in Noir, a bleak and indifferent universe where love and betrayal are the same currency and if there is a God he’s been shot through the back of the head and dumped in a trashcan for the diamonds in his teeth. Characters are fighting for their lives in Noir and passions run fever hot. Sadly this production has more of a bit of a head cold than any noticeable fever.

This production of The Play lets itself down in a number of ways and gives the impression of being rather under-rehearsed. Lines are stumbled over, there was a bad fluff at a dramatically critical moment, and of the three performers only Elizabeth Brown seemed at all relaxed. Both Matt Owen and David Washbrook seemed uncomfortable with character work, drifting perilously close to wooden on more than one occasion. Both of them, Washbrook in particular, seemed to know when to be passionate rather than why or how, and both seem to confuse volume for intensity. The cumulative effect was unengaging, like watching a rehearsal, albeit an advanced one, rather than the production itself.

The text is extremely promising; Churnin’s apparently first play written for Padded Cell is taut and intriguing, playing well with timelines and expectations. Dramatically the end stutters; offering a number of strong ending points then petering out on a rather clichéd voice over. Sound and lighting design are good, although they don’t play with the conventions of Noir as much as one might expect.

Acting aside, this is a positive and promising step up for Padded Cell, and easily the best thing they’ve produced so far. If Padded Cell continue to develop as they have over the past couple of years then their prospects are very good. Owen and Washbrook are both recent graduates, relatively new to acting, one can encourage them to develop their character skills and expect better things from them in the future. One can also hope they develop their line-learning; in a piece as narrative driven as The Play, fluffs and stumbles can do a lot of damage.

Reviewer: Ged Quayle