[Review:] MEGA, Tristan Bates Theatre, London.
MEGA is enchanting. Created by Alex Milne and performed at the Tristan Bates Theatre, its lovable characters and twists make it an absolute treat to watch.
All actresses clearly understood the text and portrayed their characters incredibly well. They were all fabulously engaging and convincing, and their physicalities and voices made their characters believable. There were only a few minor slip-ups on lines or moments where the text could have been handled better, and these did not subtract at all from the readability or intrigue of the performance. Overall, all actresses were absolutely outstanding.
For a performance with a very minimal set, actors were incredibly captivating, though I do think there was an over-reliance on certain items in places, though this becomes more of an editorial or directorial issue. For example, as soon as the tablets were first introduced, they started to frequent the stage quite regularly in consecutive scenes. These should have been allowed to enter the space in an uninvasive way so that the audience consider it as just a simple, everyday household medication that Angela uses. As the plot starts to thicken, as it were, then would be a good time to reintroduce them with another character, though it becomes a nuisance to see all characters have a turn at the tablets which became rather irksome. Bird also handled her stones far too much which muted her otherwise very idiosyncratic and rich performance. I should also note that all other props, such as the ‘Ribena’, were used authentically, whereas Angela's bowl of food in the first scene, where all characters first meet in the play, is empty. Moments like these destroy realism and should be avoided. A simple piece of apple crumble, as stated to be the food she was eating, would have corrected this. Conversely, whilst turned-off phones or visibly inactive ones usually nullify phone calls on stage, I think this fact should have been stressed for Brandy's telephone conversations and juxtaposed with the real telephone conversation she has with, whom I presume to be, her mother, to texturise even more her delusion.
As for the dramatic text itself, the writing blended these three utterly different characters into one setting so violently well. However, it could do with some editing, and some scenes could be cut either for their unnecessariness, for the way they slow the momentum of the performance, or for the way they offset its style. In certain moments, speech seems too unrealistic, and not in its typical quirky way; it seems robotic, staged and as if implanted as a ‘buffer’ or ‘filler’ until better things are able to surface. For example, moments like when Tabatha (Casey Bird) and Brandy (Alex Milne) gossip about Angela (Kirsty King) to the side of the stage. Here, the speech is particularly robotic and elaborate, yet we do not seem to learn anything new about Tabatha, and the style has also changed from dialogues to removed asides.
I felt that there could have been more complications in the plot, particularly for Angela's character. It is not until the very end that we only get a hint of the truth behind her psychosis, but it is still unclear as to whether she is, in fact, a princess or not, which means the truth has not been at all disclosed. Whilst I understand that the particular nature of these characters’ illnesses mean that they are locked in a certain perception of the world, that there is rarely any change in their realities, the outside world still exists, and so moments where regurgitation and repetition of material, which did occur towards the middle of the play, should have been replaced with allusive and questionable complications like those towards the end of the play where we start to realise the truth behind Brandy's delusion. More subtlety and insidiousness is key to the betterment of this performance, I believe.
There are also a few moments of discontinuity that make it difficult to place the mentality of the characters. For example, it is weird that Brandy should say that her mother really liked her songs but then that she was showing disapproval off to her mentality. Moreover, it is too literal for her to list all the giveaway comments that her mother had made (comments like “When are you going to stop all of this?” which demonstrate the contradictory opinions/thoughts of an outsider); these should have been fewer and more insidious.
It is good that we do not find out where the characters really are, but it is unclear if the characters themselves understand their setting. Whilst Brandy and Angela supposedly understand the reality of what I shall call the Institution, which is made clear in their critiques of Brandy’s understanding of it, they are still institutionalised themselves, and so their understandings cannot be completely accurate. It is unclear what the characters think of the Institution, how they place themselves within it, especially for Angela who makes little to no comments on it.
Finally, tech. Lighting was very simple, using only fades and blackouts until the very end of the performance where multicoloured washes engulfed the stage as though a disco. This last state, combined with the decelerating audio, was most peculiar. It would have been effective if this sort of technical breakdown was staggered throughout the performance — in transitions, for instance, which were, instead, silent — but alone it had no real pertinence. It was also a moment that went on for much too long; the audio should have started at the lyrics: a simple decelerated ‘Disco-dancing with the lights down low’, and blackout. Transitions could have perhaps been a little quicker, and sound should start at the same volume it intends to drop down to when the actresses are speaking.
To conclude, a very, very good performance but in need of more subtleties and textures. There is a lot of mystery already, and intrigue is not the problem, it is more about how this mystery is constructed and represented throughout the entirety of the play rather than sporadically, in certain scenes. Some content is too blunt and literal and other content is not allowed to breathe and mature quite enough.