Yellow Lines

Steve King
Human Resources
Oval House Theatre Downstairs
(2007)

Publicity image

Yellow Lines opens with a bundle of nerves called Colin giving a presentation about the distribution of fire extinguishers in public spaces - his area of professional expertise.

Next we see Frank, the CEO of the company which employs Colin, being bullish from behind his big desk, in his big office on the executive floor. Frank is on the lookout for the next big product and Colin has an idea.

His theory is that the behaviour of panicking crowds is not chaotic but merely complex. He believes his software could predict the movement of crowds facing danger and spaces could then be designed to harness "the reflex of people in motion" for their greater safety.

Frank sees an idea that he can sell to everyone from the Assembly to Terminal 5 and Colin seizes the opportunity to negotiate working from home and being allowed to see the project through to implementation.

Things get increasingly menacing when Colin enhances the original concept with a design to control how people walk along crowded pavements.

Clues as to what drives Colin are abundant and when he has a panic attack during a blackout and takes refuge in a coffee house we see the extent of his dependence on medication and inability to cope with crowds and panic - his own and that of others.

A strange friendship grows between Colin and Sïan the barista at the coffee house. She has a son with ADHD and is being pressured to give him drugs to control his behaviour so Colin's unconventional behaviour leaves her unfazed. When she confronts him with "No-one needs this thing but you", it is she who gives voice to Colin's intense self-interest.

Frank is apparently unaware of Colin's incapacitating phobias even when repeatedly let down by him, as he is at the board meeting where the new software, METROS, is to be presented.

In an unlikely turn of events Colin convinces Frank that he can "go all in on a blind" and present the idea directly to the shareholders. Predictably Frank pulls it off. He does to the shareholders with words what Colin does to crowds with design: he steers them where he wants them to go.

Frank, elated, immediately talks about their next big thing but being pressured by Frank and without the implementation of METROS in his sights, Colin has a panic attack. As Colin cowers on the floor Frank finally sees what a victim Colin is to his phobias.

At the close of the play time has passed but no-one has moved on: Frank is still CEO and Sïan is entrenched at the coffee house; although Colin has a new job in America, it is in the mould of METROS but with even more sinister possibilities.

On the whole Mervyn Millar has directed the trio ably around the minimalist set and at moments of tension there is a real sense of atmosphere. However, some staging was blunt and when Colin is choking on his medication and gags onto the options contract Frank has offered him, it is wincingly contrived.

Some of the writing is similarly unsubtle. Frank is stereotyped and some of his lines, particularly the hackneyed swearing, sound so un-spontaneous as to be unlikely.

Other elements of the writing are more comfortable on the ear though beware the clichés - "send me one [employee] with a pulse" - and lines that don't stand scrutiny - I particularly disliked "a feedback loop in freefall".

There is a sense that the author has little or no experience of the world of which he is writing. Steve King, who was previously a maths student, writes best the passages which describe Colin's work and these are the lines with which Edward Bennett-Coles, as Colin, is most convincing. At other times mannerisms rather get in the way of seeing Colin's struggles and we miss an opportunity to find some compassion to balance our dislike of him.

There are many challenging themes in this piece - that there are so many is its major weakness. Judging from Yellow Lines Steve King has a wealth of ideas and if he is able to be selective with a subtler approach it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next.

Tuesday to Saturday at 7.45pm until 16 June 2007

Post show panel discussions will take place on Friday 8 and Wednesday 13 June on The Individual and the City. The topics will focus on the "relationship between citizens and the built environment". Entrance is free to anyone who has previously watched the play.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti