[Review:] FOLLOW THE LINES, The Bread and Roses Theatre, London.
For clarification: where ‘Pryle’ alone is written, this refers to performer Rebecca Pryle. References to Olivia Pryle will be clarified by the inclusion of her full name.
This review considers Follow the Lines, performed by Rebecca Pryle, written by Olivia Pryle, directed by Velenzia Spearpoint, and staged at The Bread and Roses Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe. To book your tickets to any of the Fringe events, click here.
I shall start with the acting. Rebecca Pryle is a wonderful performer, demonstrating good credibility, vitality and conviction. With characters excellently differentiated, Pryle proves herself capable of an exemplary transformativity [though I would perhaps re-examine the Spanish accent used to portray an Italian character]. Projection is good. Emotionality and expressivity are great. A very talented actress.
I do, however, have a few negatives to deliver. A typical piece of advice we give to nervous performers is pick a spot above the audience and perform to it. This is good for young performers specifically but is not something we expect of professional actors. Pryle’s gaze often hovers over the audience’s heads. In order for an audience to fully connect with a dramatic text like this, performer eye contact is emphatically necessary; a fixed gaze is subtractive and allows for an audience-performer disconnect.
Similarly, there are too many instances where Pryle finds herself at either side of the stage performing only towards the corresponding audience members in front of her. This allows for a sense of exclusivity and should be avoided. Scanning [naturally, delicately, not erratically] the entire audience, from left to right, when on one side of the stage would negate this issue and is something I recommend Pryle do.
Pacing. Especially in the beginning of this performance, Pryle storms through the text. My advice is to breathe! Nerves clearly got the better of her, and I would recommend Pryle look into developing some breathing techniques personalised to her to practice before a show. This speed made way for many slip-ups on words, a disruption of comedic timing and a potential information overload for the audience. However, I should emphasise that this was only at the beginning of the performance; Pryle’s pacing soon levelled and ended up being perfect. Beyond the above notes, an impeccable performance from Pryle.
There is a definite issue with pacing in the writing itself, however, and this certainly needs to be revised. The dramatic text fails to juggle momentum, starting incredibly energised and dwindling slowly with the developments of Chloe’s melancholia. This culminates in a long-winded monologue about frustrations, feelings, opinons and anxieties and desires for self-worth and self-esteem. I would recommend shortening this final monologue – which starts to feel rather like an emotional outpour from the writer than from the character – and perhaps replacing the time it subtracts with more material whose energy equates that perceptible in the opening scenes. No fault of Pryle’s as a performer, this remains clearly an editorial issue. Momentum is simply not considered carefully enough in the written text. Admittedly, attempts to uplift momentum are certainly made by Olivia Pryle, such as Chloe’s romantic interest in a server at a café, but these are simply too short-lived, and we soon return to the more neutral material.
After the high energy of the beginning falls with the introduction of more static or calmer material, we are then presented the news of Chloe’s mother’s illness. To have something sad after a focus on low-energy material is simply draining. Perhaps this was deliberate? Perhaps writer Olivia Pryle felt uncomfortable placing cancer after high-energy, comedic material? But this discomfort should be ignored in favour of stronger dynamism. Besides, it is often that such heart-wrenching news follows the positive or the neutral. To present material invoking such contrasting emotions like this would not be insensitive but actually rather welcomed.
There is also an issue with the registers of language used by Chloe. These are far too inconsistent and disrupt the naturalism offered by the text. For example, Chloe says something like ‘[the men were] patting each other with a gesture of tribal acceptance’. This does not reflect the natural patterns of spoken language, and it is easy with phrases like these to feel disconnected and formally removed from the text, as though we have lost that conversational, intimate aspect of Chloe’s speech.
Nevertheless, the text deals with very human and intimate concerns that speak true to an often-overlooked, dull suffering that a huge number, if not all, of us experience on a daily basis. It voices the otherwise neglected and seeming unworthwhile but incredibly important hollowness that many of us experience in this modernised world that seems to storm past us, expanding and advancing exponentially, and leave us behind. A text that reminds us of our individual responses and needs in a fast-paced world of demands, political exigence, and fear.
As far as tech is concerned, sound (designed by Sassy Clyde) is wonderfully designed and operated, particularly the soundscapes wherein we hear many echoic recordings of Chloe addressing herself, distressed, empowered, etc. I would just recommend more reverb be placed on these audio clips here; some are far too crisp to imply internal thoughts. I would also recommend Pryle focus more on the intonation and delivery of her lines within these soundscapes, as some of the audio clips see her lack a degree of credibility. Symbolic and facilitative, all sound effects are used appropriately and well. Theatrical properties are perhaps slightly overused, but this does not subtract too significantly from legibility or visual intrigue.
Overall, a powerful performance from Pryle of a somewhat struggling dramatic text that could do with some rather drastic edits.
“An unsteady text made enjoyable by a very talented performer.”
Photography credit: Vincenzo Albano.