From the very moment you walk into the space, the aesthetic style of the piece is made abundantly clear. A freeze-framed abstract image is the first thing you see, with lead character Victoria Hendrix (Nina Cavaliero) segregated from the rest of her peers - a group of surreal looking characters all in green and one even wielding an owl puppet.
The set was another wonderful feature of the production. Simple and elegant, the panels could be taken apart and rearranged to create different environments for the actors to interact with, transitioning, more or less, smoothly from one to the other.
A Matter of Life and Debt includes many wonderful performances of very colourful and outlandish characters, the Bellboy (played by Ollie Partington) to name but one. Victoria is well defined as a normal character in a mad world, from her performance style to her costume, clearly an outcast from the rest of this world. But the standout performance must be given to Jonathan Cobb who plays Carl, a pantomime-esque, larger than life, eccentric customer service provider, who dominates the stage with personality, movement and volume.
With a surrealist style, there is a lot of scope for comedy, which is well employed throughout the piece by all of the characters in very distinct ways. The humour doesn’t so much come from the wordplay as it does from the execution by the actors. The comic timing and out-of-the-box performances fuel the audience’s laughter, but at times it does fall a bit flat. It’s difficult to strike a balance between being melodramatic (as their style demands) and playing for laughs, and this production was at times dancing on that line.
As we are brought deeper and deeper into the seedy underbelly of the business, there is an increase in the amount of movement sequences used to emphasise this crazy world. At times, the movement choices were not quite justified within the context of a particular scene, yet they remained a visually interesting experience that stuck with the aesthetic that there were rolling with.
The set was another wonderful feature of the production. Simple and elegant, the panels could be taken apart and rearranged to create different environments for the actors to interact with, transitioning, more or less, smoothly from one to the other. It wasn’t purely there for presentation and was an integral part of the performance. However, what the set failed to do was fill the large playing space. More often or not, the space seemed largely empty, even with a full cast onstage. Adapting their performances to suit the needs of the venue, would go a long way to tighten up the performances.
A Matter of Life and Debt has a wonderful aesthetic that builds towards an interesting and entertaining production. Everything is there, but with a bit of work and tightening up, this has the chance to be a refined work of theatre.