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[Review:] UNTITLED SPARKLY VAMPIRE PLAY, Omnibus Theatre, London.

I must, unfortunately, start this review by detailing some negative initial impressions walking into the house, somewhat immortalised by subsequent happenings. As I entered the house, two members of the crew were gossiping, one lounging over the seats, another stood broadly at the control desk, talking across the distance with her. Loudly skindering, relaxed, ignorant to the now entering audience and to the mood with which they were imbuing the space, the creatives made for a markedly hostile ambience, in conflict with the silent and tense atmosphere that the performance itself attempts to have settle. I then notice the two performers shrouded in darkness but still clearly visible, Caidraic Heffernan (playing Mason) and Kate Valentine Crisp (as Esther and Edward). The two, with great emphasis on Crisp, are restless, stretching, yawning. Either their presence on the stage here should be deliberate, intentional, their purpose clear, their actions coherent and established, or they should not be present at all. Even if the intention is to present these characters as relaxed, languid, which is most notably not the case here, a degree of muscular tension as well as focus techniques should ground the actor in the space so that they remain present, aware, enlivened, awake, not sleepy or detached in their external inactivity. It is not until the end of the performance that I am reminded of this trend of disconnection from the work and its integrity. Loud, frantic and chatting, the creatives clear the stage with an uncareful urgency, completely disrupting, yet again, the tense and quiet atmosphere of the space that their performance has, supposedly, taken nearly an hour to produce. The final, concretised impression is a slapdash performance for experience or money, with no care or integrity from the creatives’ part, completely destroying any hopes of illusion and ambience, careless as to the sentiment with which they will leave their departing audience as an important souvenir of their work. Appallingly unprofessional. I hope this comportment is reconsidered appropriately for future performances.

Moving on to the performance itself. Partially an editorial issue, Izzy is portrayed well by Amelia Paltridge, but characterisation remains inconsistent in places. Our very first impression of Izzy, as Paltridge [needlessly and incongruously] stares into the audience’s eyes, her glare and movements determined, calculative, directly contrasts with our next impression immediately after this overture: she is anxious, awkward, perhaps even terrified of us. This second impression is all the more surprising for another reason. That her book club ‘audience’ should have such a crippling effect on her as she requests we interact, awaits our responses — both to no avail —and censors herself in the descriptions she offers us is confounding, given that her ‘audience’ never actually existed; the book club fell through.

Nervous and perhaps distracted throughout, she is, without offering us an introduction or any coherency and logic, somehow completely comfortable with Esther. In their scenes together, her constant anxiety seems to have disappeared altogether, and she is now entirely collected, laidback upon her chair. We can surmise, perhaps, that this is because she is in love with Esther and feels at ease in her presence, but this is only a retrospective surmise, given that Paltridge maintains this anxiety in her portrayals during precedent interactions between her character and Esther, and that Esther is never appropriately introduced as a potential love interest, to begin with — in fact, it is never truly made clear as to who she is at all. In this way, the character of Izzy with which we are presented, at first filled with passion, love, interest, fond of a little ‘befriended’ rogue mouse she has named Charlie, and later cold, spiteful, and plotting Charlie’s death[?!], all without presenting any logical development, is completely inconsistent and hence incomprehensible.

Emotion, distress and trauma are some of the running themes of this performance which presents our main character’s parasocial relationship with fictional character Edward Cullen as a coping mechanism to bear the complexities of the world in which she lives as well as those of her seemingly unfixed sexual identity. A sound premise with which to work and from which to consolidate Izzy’s character, it would seem, but such clarity does not extend beyond these details. These themes and most other aspects of the text remain somewhat impenetrable in their superficiality, lacking credibility and particularisation. The text itself is most repetitive in the tripartite structure which consumes its majority and in its reliance upon the same recurrent themes: [homo]sexuality, identity and disconnection, and its constant reliance upon emotional aspects of the characters, ironically, forces us away from bonding with them, as they seem inhuman, monolithic, unidimensional. Moreover, the characters are all holding onto something from the past — Mason onto Naomi, Esther onto her childhood bully, and Izzy onto Edward — and this furthers the sense of a lack of depth and variation. Izzy’s monologic book club scenes and the constant proverbial wrestling in her interactions with the other characters in every single other scene, even during the mouse’s death scene, lends this sense of unidimensionality, also.

Izzy’s circumstances are never fully explained; we are never allowed or made to fully understand the reasons behind her emotional dispositions, beyond one mention that she was bullied in her youth and felt isolated as a result. Consequently, we have no reason to care for her; we have no questions, for we know we will receive no answers; we, rather like her, are enabled to feel disconnected from the world of the play. Whilst the fragmented narrative successfully communicates well the disorder of memories, relationships, impulses and emotions in her mind, I believe this, too, confuses and complicates our reading of her chronology and her development [or perhaps regression].

After this persistent sense of stagnancy and repetition, in the structure of scenes and in the text’s themes, is a notable shift in the text’s voice and subject matter towards the very end…but it is not a positive one. We are allowed no clear understanding as to why Edward has now left Izzy, especially after having given into biting her wrist, but, most significantly, we are now introduced for the first time to Izzy’s mother (also Crisp) in a short seaside flashback including the two. This is a most peculiar scene, following shortly after the mouse's death scene, both including a hitherto unseen reliance upon an abundance of one-use theatrical properties, meaning that they are aesthetically and stylistically incongruous, and neither overtly consistent with the material we have been offered hitherto. Again, it feels as though some deep emotional memory, trauma or disconnect is being referenced here but remains superficial in its inaccessibility and transience. A sense of depth is referenced, for example, in the inclusion of jam in the mouse’s deathtrap as something tempting but fatal, reminding us of Esther’s account of the sweet-smelling jam-like breath of her bully, and in the inclusion of Izzy not being touched by [the memory of] her mother, after Edward’s fixation on the fact that no-one has ever or does ever touch him. However, these references remain, once more, shallow and far too esoteric.

Absence of reason and significance is even observable in the presence of technical elements. The significance of the microphone and its usage remains confused in this performance. Initially a signifier that we are in the book club, the microphone is used sporadically by Crisp’s characters too, and its purpose thus becomes confused, destabilising our mode of reception and needlessly stylising and depersonalising extracts of the text. I should also note here that the microphone is slightly too high, obscuring Paltridge’s face, and that Paltridge fails to speak her lines into it consistently, often continuing to speak when her head is slightly turned or tilted, allowing, most jarringly, for most of her words to be projected by the microphone and some not. When Edward says another character’s name “like that” — something I shall return to below — we see the LED spots light up…and this is their only usage beyond creating a starry background for Edward[?] — or Esther? Potentially even Naomi? — and Jacob’s[?] (also Heffernan) dance. I add these parentheses because who these characters are exactly remains completely unclear, as charming as this scene is in itself, which is something that three other audience members happened to voice, as well. Unfortunately, the red scarf work by Crisp is not enough to ground our reading here. I digress… The relevance of this use of the spotlights is left unmarked and unknown. Again, the umbrella at the end: pretty but for what purpose? Completely incongruous with the technical style of the rest of the performance which remains technically featherlight, beyond these LED spots. Perhaps the only successful use of tech is the use of the spotlights and washes to distinguish scenes, but this is too rudimentary an inclusion to really commend.

Perhaps the saving grace of this performance is its performers, who remain invested and energised throughout, despite the aforementioned minor hiccups during the overture. They remain certain of their character intentions and motivations, even if we cannot, and are confident in portraying the bold, graphic, profane and sexual material offered by the text. For the most part, they are credible actors, but none have conceived particularly strong profiles for their characters. Idiosyncrasies beyond Esther’s holding a Peroni bottle [which is clearly not filled with Peroni or a comparably coloured liquid but with clear water — attention to detail is important] are nonexistent. Nevertheless, physicalities have good vigour, and expressivity is above adequate. I would just urge more extremity in Paltridge’s physicality, particularly in more extreme scenes, and that Crisp pay closer attention the differentiation between her characters; lack of distinct profiles and idiolects often means that her characters are indiscernible unless explicitly named by the written text itself. I mentioned above the manner in which Edward says other characters’ names, and whilst this is clearly an important feature in the text, Crisp fails to mark the names with any notable peculiarity, in tone, enunciation or expression. This ought to be addressed.

Ultimately, however, the problem here is not the performers but the material they are performing. Overall, this is an eclectic and confused performance whose text must be significantly reworked. The performers demonstrate good promise but are not able to salvage its general esotericism and superficiality. Character developments are incoherent, and story and plot require the audience to read too intently into subtext. Intertextual references are minimal; in fact, the purpose and significance of Twilight to Izzy — the entire premise of the play — is, overall, underplayed. Unprofessional dispositions, whilst these do not particularly alter my criticism here, certainly leave me with a sour taste of this performance, moreover.

“A confused, incomplete and incoherent text made merely watchable by good performers.”

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