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[Performance Analysis:] SCUM, The Bread and Roses Theatre, London.

This review shall consider Scum, a play written by Taiyo Yoshida, directed by Jonathan Hawkins and recently staged at The Bread and Roses Theatre as part of the Clapham Fringe.

It seems that playwright Taiyo Yoshida could not decide whether to create a comedy or a serious, heartfelt play. The overture is impassioned, reflective, inspiring…then we have chaotic comedy, with a planted glove, a dead cat and a desperate cleaning duo…and then a more serious and humdrum confrontation between the two despairing characters. How we are meant to feel leaving this performance, then, is most questionable. Stylistically, this is a very confused performance, and I myself am left feeling very confounded as to the significance of the sociocultural agenda sprinkled throughout the text to cause us to consider the social status of and lack of respect towards cleaners. This play, overall, is far too playful and nebulous to offer us any profound political insight; it should steer clear of this.

I shall start with characterisation. The character of Fiona (Lucy Blake) is clear and well defined. We understand that she is hardworking and ambitious, driven and serious. We also understand her motivations and objectives — her desire to develop her cleaning business, for example. She has a life beyond the play, recounting her dates, her relationship with her mum, etc. Claire (Emily Ralph), however, is quirky, cooky, airy and playful and wants to be an actress…and that is all we know. These adjectives are not character traits or aspects of psychology in themselves but mere descriptions of demeanour. They do not imply objective, intent or mentality.

There is a severe lack of character development, most notably with Claire, as I have implied above, but even with Fiona too. Coherent and linear progression insofar as character psychology and development are replaced with dance sequences, power poses and lengthy, meaningless dialogues. This must be re-examined. The characters are simply not well communicated at all. We are just left to accept what we are given – and we are given very little, indeed.

Where performativity is concerned, Blake and Ralph certainly have adequate energy, and this is especially true of the comedic section of the text, but could do with a lot more, overall. Conviction and overall credibility is certainly lacking, and Blake needs to work a lot more on her diction, as she regularly slips up on her lines – something of which I am seeing a lot of late, for some reason.

Then, we have the miming… This is completely unimaginative and repetitive, not to mention completely undecipherable. I have no idea why the creatives chose to bombard the set with so many props and pieces…only to have Blake and Ralph disregard them and mime! Use the props you have! One minute, Blake is using a real scraper to remove the ‘chewing-gum’ stuck to the underside of a real table, and the next, she is miming running her finger along a cabinet that does not exist. Just how dusty is this cabinet, I wonder, considering that the actresses each perform this exact action persistently throughout the first few scenes. Devoid of creativity. To use mime and physical action side by side like this is leads to a severely disjointed performance style.

It is not until after Claire and Fiona share a dance routine that the comedy element is really amped up, and it is certainly effective. A growing sense of chaos, an absurd scenario, funny one-liners and lively characterisations. This section is wonderful. And I shall ignore the fact that we are asked as audience members to imagine that the box the two fight over is, in fact, a bottle and that it supposedly drops and smashes whilst still clearly in their hands. Visual cues like this involving mime are those I recommend be thoroughly reconsidered.

Then, we have the serious dialogue that quickly ensues after this section. This scene is needlessly long and completely dampens our enjoyment of the comedy beforehand. Ill-conceived, it is lengthened by nonsensical pieces of dialogue such as when Claire explains why she planted the glove – an element, I should note, that I find far too predictable – and Fiona then asks her, ‘Why?’ …She just told you. Logical flow is inhibited like this for a prolonged sense of ‘drama’ that ought not to be.

A few trivial notes: when Claire imagines herself as Mark’s alternate persona and says that perhaps he loves to perform in front of ‘a live audience’, the metatheatrical joke here of looking out knowingly to the audience is uncalled for; it needlessly defictionalises the text to no avail and is another example of stylistic disjointedness. Technical elements are overused, and as much as I personally enjoy the voiceover of the cat, again, it does not fit in stylistically with the rest of the performance. It deliberately, and erroneously, draws attention to the work we are forced to do as an audience to imagine that a cat is actually there – which is hard enough with Ralph’s, yet again, repetitive and unrealistic miming motions.

Overall, this is a very confused dramatic text. When it aspires to be a comedy, it certainly delivers, but it is completely unsure of itself, as are its performers.

“An ill-conceived and confused performance.”


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