When We Embraced / Dead to Me
Tom Walton / Gary Kitching
FallenFromGrace / Gary Kitching & Co
Northern Stage, Newcastle
Two short plays, two companies, one venue, same evening. Some of the audience were at both plays, others came to just one. In the adaptable space of Stage Three, we were ushered out inter-plays while the seating layout was changed.
Both plays are low budget, one with two actors, the other without a single actor on stage. Impossible? Not quite.
When We Embraced, put together by Tom Walton for FallenFromGrace, features a set of one single chair on which is placed an old-fashioned amp. That's it.
Oh, and there’s the disembodied voice of Walton which pinpoints particular members of the audience, gets them to stand up, hold hands, wave an arm, walk about or mildly interact with one another.
The idea is to break down normal barriers which is fine and I looked forward to an hour of gradual inhibition shedding. Except the piece never develops. Walton chooses a person, describes their appearance, then goes into scripted territory describing their possible traits or lifestyle—most likely totally inaccurately.
Had the audience's real, as against imagined, personalities been involved, had they themselves been able to shape proceedings rather than merely respond to instructions in a mawkish embarrassed manner, we might have had a challenging piece of theatre rather than the germ of an idea which runs out of steam before its allotted hour.
Walton’s delivery style is at first disarming and there are flashes of humour, but the piece has a definite feel of Edinburgh Fringe, which was its birthplace.
Gary Kitching’s Dead to Me, in association with Greyscale, has a flier showing four people gathered round a crystal ball. Yet the cast numbers only two, there’s no crystal ball and the medium Tessa Parr spends the whole play on the move in highly animated style.
The play's interesting idea has Kitching (a dead ringer for Ricky Gervais) as the somewhat earthbound Steve who wins a ticket for an appointment with the medium, (Tessa Parr). Early on, we clock Parr as a fake and not only because she’s dressed like Eve Boswell (should anyone remember that entertainer).
Like most of us, Steve is looking for some meaning in life and in naïve fashion convinces himself the medium can provide it. But it is slowly revealed—and to his surprise as much as anyone’s—that he possesses certain powers all of his own… a revelation that necessitates a reappraisal all round.
Nice concept. The script is comic and occasionally dark, each scene linked via a loud Elvis song while Parr gyrates wildly for reasons I can only guess at, though possibly to do with the role being underwritten and needing to seek attention.
Kitching’s is the more believable character and he handles the slow transition well in a play slightly blunted by the strange ending where the metamorphosed Steve delivers a monologue on just what his newly discovered powers can achieve. Stylewise, this seemed slightly at odds with the rest of the play.
The piece is directed by Selma Dimitrijevic.
Reviewer: Peter Mortimer