[Review:] VICTORY DAY, The Lion and Unicorn Theatre, London.
This review will consider Victory Day, performed at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre.
I will start with characterisation. With the slight exception of John Pearson (playing Misha) and Seb Collinson (playing Chris), all performers were very lacking in energy, naturalism and overall performance. Nothing seemed to be performed realistically; everything seemed forced and wooden, as though a rehearsal as opposed to a performance. This was most inarguably a problem for Vanessa Hall (playing Sam), but real emotion was barely captured by any performer, except, really, by Pearson. This performer, whilst wooden in many places, retained humour, energy and credibility sporadically throughout the play. It is also worth noting Sasha Dulerayn's role as Victor Shurkov: his put-on accent was very inconsistent throughout the video, and, in general, it was just a very odd choice of character, although somewhat endearing towards the end. The fact that he was supposedly Russian just did not feel as though enough to settle him into the context of this play.
Whilst having what one might consider a minor part in this production, Pfister seemed to uphold the highest stature and continuity. Every movement was true to that of a soldier, and whilst there were moments where posture or visual direction were lost, overall, a clear staple of character was demonstrated.
The presence of Pfister is something I would like to elaborate on. I felt that if the play had been longer, or, rather, had given into moments where his presence was really drawn attention to, Pfister's constant being on stage would have been more effective. It felt as though he was simply a costumed stagehand as opposed to someone having a purposeful role, and this could have been averted by injecting moments of tension, drawing more attention to his presence, throughout the play. I would like to have seen him sitting within the scene, or facing the audience, somewhere really obvious and prominent, to really protrude into the audience's periphery and highlight the intimidating theme of war more poignantly. Also worth noting was the scene change before the 'dance' — rather, a series of movements — in the penultimate scene of the play: I found his weaving through the characters to clear chairs during the scene to be distracting and just a clumsy idea. Although basic, even a simple puppeteering of the other characters by him, leading them to clear the stage themselves in the same fashion he had been clearing it, and then into the dance, would have been better. His low-lit presence in the corner of the room just didn't feel as effective to me as it could have done. In fact, it seemed a very inane and indecisive element of the performance.
The 'dance' itself was another thing I had an issue with. Some performers started with small gestures that built into frenetic dance moves; others, with full-body flailings from the off. It was a scene that felt highly unnecessary and random. The only relevance I could think of was linking it to the drug use in the preceding scenes, but this did not explain why Misha was involved in the dancing, seeing as he did not partake in that.
Then, there's the over-poetic, melodramatic — yet, again, wooden — monologue by Juliette (Morgane Richard) that followed. This, along with practically every other scene in the play, felt so…out of place. The style was very confused, from technological to club-like to poetic to physical to (badly) realistic. Everything just seemed odd and unwilling to meld together as scenes. Then, there's another, extensive, monologue by Viktor Shurkov projected onto the screen. Compared to other scenes, this was by far the longest, and yet, there was not a lot to conclude with or take from it. The writing of this play felt very directionless and unnaturalistic, perhaps leading to the wooden acting style, and it seemed as though the play was attempting to tackle an enormous range of topics, from drugs to war to love to death to sex, and in such a sedulously short amount of time. It would have been better, I believe, to take one or, at most, a couple of these topics and really investigate them through one or, again, just a couple of theatrical modes. The topic of war seemed to be the most pertinent amongst these topics, leading to the characters' abrupt and seemingly-otherwise-impertinent demise, and so this topic would have been better to investigate more profoundly — perhaps this is where the soldier's presence would have been more effective. Random insertions of speeches from David Cameron just weren't enough to link the plot and narrative with aim.
Whilst there was an abundance of humorous moments, there perhaps lacked some sincerity in treating the issues, both in performance style and plot. An especially pertinent example of this consists of Dulerayn's entrance as a drug dealer, referring to his being in a "fringe theatre" i.e. employing yet another theatrical mode, metatheatre. Did this scene really have to happen? What effect did it have? Did this drive the momentum of the plot or inhibit it? Why? These are questions I felt unanswered by any potential creative thought behind this decision. I overheard another spectator say at the end of the performance, “I don't know what I just watched.” And whilst I obviously cannot declare precisely what she meant by that, I can only say, I agree wholeheartedly with the objective statement as it stands alone.
Then, on to set. I found the basic set of five stools to be effective in its simplicity. The huge white iPhone, used as a screen onto which images were projected, was also somewhat effective, particularly in the farm scenes. Though, was it necessary? Arguable. For example, the projection of the word 'enlisted': “Okay…why is that important?” I asked myself. And 'enlisted' was the only word to be displayed and then possessed not a single significance or relevance to the rest of the play. Why was it projected, then? Similarly, the image of a fallen tree and a cow. “Okay, the tree added a second of humour, but would the scene had survived without it? Yes. Would we have realised we were on a farm without the cow? Yes!” Every decision just felt as though lacking care and precision.
Lastly, lighting. It is an extremely bad idea to interweave colour and a harsh white strobe. Not only is it painful for spectators, but the vision naturally blurs and we can't see anything. This happened a lot during this performance. Not only that, but it was discontinuous, causing even more of a strain on the eye. The white stroboscopic lighting on its own would have been enough for the desired effect. Why red lighting was inserted on top of this, I really do not know.
"A very eclectic, confused performance, attempting to tackle a huge range of topics, proving weak and shambolic."