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[Review:] COLLOQUIUM, Culture Palace, London.

This was my third time being invited to review this performance, Colloquium, and it is always an honour to see how the performance has developed and improved, and, yet again, improved it certainly has. Written by Katherine Stockton and directed, on this occasion, by Molly Wilsher, this performance was staged at Culture Palace, London.

Concerning the text, style and momentum are far more consistent. We have lost the former freneticism and fragmentedness, and there is now a far greater fluidity and rhythm and a greater consistency in the overall voice of the play. Dialogue, for the most part, feels a lot more natural and authentic, and conversations feel less superficial and more varied, deepening our understanding of the characters as living, feeling humans, as opposed to mere progressors of the narrative. Similarly, character relationships are far clearer, from the status of the characters within the university to the characters’ personal relationships to and with one another. We now understand the histories and motives of the characters far better as well.

However, I mentioned above that dialogue feels more natural and authentic ‘for the most part’, and this is because, until Anna’s (Hannah Eggleton) monologue, dialogue seems to follow a certain rigid pattern. This pattern is characterised by a certain aggressive bantering between the characters, where questions are posed sarcastically and responded to with equally flippant, acerbic remarks, and then a bold, knowing statement is uttered. This provides the former part of the text with a certain roboticism and excessive structuredness and thus with a sense of inauthenticity. However, for some reason, after this first monologue, such a pattern disappears, or, at least, presents itself far less frequently.

There are also some inconsistencies. Most notably, that Anna should detail her failing romance with George (Benjamin Prudence) to Ben (Callum Choudhury). So confrontational and dismissive towards Ben, adamant that nothing is happening between George and her, it should seem peculiar that she should then open herself up to him so readily and trustingly, and so elaborately, only to reproach him immediately afterwards with a “Happy now?!” and to continue with this disregard. We have seen nothing of him to imagine him as a loving and reliable confidant, and I cannot imagine what Anna would gain from opening up to him in this way. In fact, that they should be speaking with each other at all in this manner is rather debatable still. It is not necessary for every single character to have a relationship with one another, but, instead, the various contexts to which each of those characters belongs should combine and coexist coherently. I believe it is clear enough already that Ben and Alice share such a context as ‘competing’ applicants, and Ben could quite easily exist only in this context without this impairing the profundity of the overall text or his character.

Anna, Ben and George do share the opening scene together, but what we see in this scene is a first encounter, and this is insufficient to warrant Anna opening up so freely as she does. I would not remove this first scene, however, as, regardless of how it contextualises the relationship between these three, it does establish status and differences amongst the characters and notably prepares us for the nature of the impending interviews.

As for acting, this is a very strong cast. My only issue with almost all of the cast members is a propensity to preempt and react prematurely to other performers, relying too heavily upon the material established in rehearsal and not 'living in the moment'. However, this particular problem surfaces notably infrequently. One significant problem that does crop up frequently, however, concerns backstage etiquette. The distracting noises of performers rustling, coughing, preparing to enter onto the stage, etc. persisted throughout the entire performance. A further corporeal self-discipline is required for this purpose, and, especially in performance sites where sound travels easily, it is inherent that all necessary movements be made preemptively, systematically and in unison: as one performer enters, the performers next on stage must approach the curtain concurrently, to have the sound of their approach masked by the louder and more attractive sound of the entering performer. Similarly, performers should not gather to recompose in the backstage area but should approach the side of the curtain from which they will next be entering immediately after exiting the stage, queueing in order of appearance.

Eggleton demonstrates a great sensitivity to her role, aware of her character intentions and presenting a great emotional range. She maintains throughout great credibility as well, but, where this emotionality is concerned, she could benefit from better graduality in her monologue; we go straight to wet-eyed forlorn, and it would be better to build this emotion. I would also recommend more subtlety in her shifting between emotional states.

Alexandra Gallagher (playing Alice) has chosen this time around a characterisation significantly different to her previous one. She has chosen to portray Alice as highly emotional, despairing, almost traumatised. I can understand how this should be effective, particularly later on in the play, to express how this oppressive and exclusivist enrolment methodology would eventually affect applicants and their mental well-being, but this portrayal is rather extreme from the very beginning, even in her scenes with Choudhury, meaning that little room is left to develop the character and to chart her inevitable breakdown. In this way, her characterisation remains slightly caricatural and superficial. Still confident, bold and, for the most part, credible in her portrayal, I would just recommend that Gallagher work on her emotional sensitivity and study the text more thoroughly to decide which exact moments alter, challenge and ‘crack’ her character, and that she respond in her performance to each of these progressively, appropriately. Nevertheless, a degree more hostility, confidence and reproach should underpin her characterisation if Alice is to be understood as so ‘resistant’. I should note, however, that the character of Alice does seem to have a far more muted, insidious and implicit role in this draft; perhaps therein lies the issue here, with Gallagher reading her character as powerless and merely instrumental.

Sean Bennett (playing Alfred) has lost his former caricaturality and roboticism altogether, no longer relying on repeated gestures or prop-handling to build his character profile but, instead, infusing this profile with a good array of idiosyncrasies to develop a consistent and unique characterisation: adjusting his cardigan, clasping his hands, pursing the lips, etc. His pacing has significantly improved, and he has also seen a great improvement in his interactivity with fellow performers, once performing too insularly. I only have two issues with Bennett’s performance, overall: firstly, it is made clear in the text that Alfred seems to have some kind of health issue or breakdown, revealing itself when he becomes particularly irate with Alice, prompting her to ask if she should seek assistance. This is significantly underplayed and rushed; we do not see this breakdown or build-up whatsoever, and, currently, it feels markedly peculiar that Alice should be so concerned for him in this way. Secondly, projection — and this also applies to Truman Gaudoin (playing Bennett). Especially given the echoic nature of this particular performance site, it is easy to lose the ends of these performers’ sentences. Beyond these issues, a faultless, credible portrayal.

Gaudoin has established a solid and clear profile for Bennett, remaining bold and deliberate throughout. He performs with good credibility but could see slightly more variation in his characterisation. For this, I would recommend more reactivity when it comes to moments in dialogue where his character is simply listening, silent, and I would focus significantly on manual expression: Bennett has a tendency — by no means throughout his performance but, nevertheless, persistently — to allow his hands to flop beside him, motionless and inexpressive, particularly when engaging in a duologue for which he and his interlocutor must be stood. Not exaggeratively or with accentuation, but the hands should always be utilised to express; extremely rarely in the everyday do they flop by the sides.

Prudence does wonderfully in his monologue, and the performance of certain deliberate stylistic decisions, such as revealing his bandaged wrists, posing for the mother’s photograph, etc., are handled impeccably well, feeling most spontaneous and natural. A few notable slip-ups on lines, but I would put this down not to nerves but to pacing, with Prudence being slightly too led by the emotional shifts of his character where control and creative self-regulation are still necessary. More of a directorial issue, I would just pay attention to the use of space in this monologue scene; it is not necessary to have him moving around, kneeling, sitting back down, standing up, sitting back down again, quite so consistently. Whilst the intention here is to allow for an increase in dynamism and vitality, the effect is exhausting and too deliberate; besides, the content of the monologue is varied enough not to warrant such an intense physicality in delivery.

I should also mention that Prudence seems slightly lost during group scenes, whilst very comfortable during his monologue, seeming to omit in these scenes particularisation, specificity and variation in his characterisation. I would put this down both to blocking and writing; it is clear that Prudence is, quite rightly, unsure as to the purpose of his character’s presence in these scenes. I believe George should have a few more lines in such scenes, to better establish his presence as well as for us to better understand his character’s psychology, reasoning and perceptions of his surroundings — this includes his interaction with Bennett, discussing his taking over Alfred’s module.

As it currently stands, both of the monologues do feel slightly incongruous with the rest of the text — stylistically, rather than in their content. That the monologuer should first share a scene with another character, only to wait until they are gone to begin, feels far too structured and deliberate. This is unaided by the change of lighting states, from a warm and thus less intense wash to a less natural, colder and brighter one. In these ways, identical for each of the monologues, they feel too marked and performative. I would, rather than remove them, rearrange them or mark them differently. They are effective in not only providing the characters with greater depth and intrigue but in providing respite from the heaviness and tensions of the text, breaking its momentum and adding variation.

As for set, its minimalism, as before, permits this performance a great dynamism and multifunctionality. Aesthetically, considering also the type of chairs used, this is an appropriate set design. However, when it comes to blocking, it seems the creatives struggle to find a natural set of interactions with the set. The set has a precise and inflexible arrangement, and this seems to have a lot of power over the performers, forcing them to comply with the layout and offering little disorder. Not every scene requires the use of the chairs [this is not a recommendation to remove them but to occasionally ignore them]; and not every scene must see the characters in a sort of face-off, one sat on either side, or sat in such a symmetrical fashion. I enjoy the moment towards the end of the play, for instance, when Bennett sits next to Alfred, or when he crouches before Alice to intimidate her. Ignoring these moments, there are far too few to diversify the performers’ use of the set. I would recommend further considering the exact topography of each of the many settings of the play and to play around with only repeating interactions with the set when the setting is repeated.

Costumes are superbly designed and correspond well with the characters’ respective identities. I also find the minimal use of props to be appropriate, although mobile phones should display something on their screens and not be left black, for credibility and illusion, and the text on the newspaper should be far more tailored, specific and revealing, for the same purposes. Lighting is equally congruous, and I would certainly keep this change of lighting states between the continuous action and the monologues; I only had an issue with this change due to how structured the monologues already feel in the text itself.

Overall, a marvellous improvement and a solid, coherent performance. Great consistency in style, both in performance and in text. Excellent work from absolutely all cast members, as well.

“An excellent, coherent and most enjoyable performance; an intellectual treat!”

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