The young and talented cast of the Ecco Theatre Company, are making their debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival a blistering, tear-jerking and highly ambitious performance. Their production, Exit Stage Left, is built upon the classic play within a play paradigm, consisting of a one time Hollywood A list director Gregory Thompson (Joe Lill) writing a comeback play based loosely on the tragic events of his past and a terrible crime he committed.
Exit Stage Left thus oscillates between the terrible crime itself, a drunken hit-and-run incident which resulted in the death of a little girl, and - in Gregory’s words - ‘a cast of morons’ trying to get to get to grips with it, unaware that their play relates so directly to the director’s own experience. This formula allows the drama to flit seamlessly from the scorchingly emotional and intense scenes concerning the real tragedy of Gregory’s past and the thought-provoking, often comical scenes of the play’s rehearsal period. Hannah Thomas gives a phenomenal stand out performance as Olivia, the wife of Gregory in his heyday. Olivia was also in the car when tragedy struck, but her husband - convinced that neither of them could mire their reputations and jeopardise their high flying careers and celebrity lifestyles – bullied her into fleeing the scene with him. Thomas gives a truly electrifying performance as a young woman plagued with remorse, choked with guilt, driven to despair and madness. The scene in which she imagines being confronted by the little girl’s mother (another strong performance, played by Erin Footitt) is one of the most powerful in the play. Such scenes were then abruptly halted, their gravity immediately juxtaposed with light hearted humour, as rehearsals got back underway, and incompetence reigned again.
Exit Stage Left also of course explores the world of modern celebrity: its vacuity, moral bankruptcy, and its emphasis on the pursuit of fame at any cost. The cast of Gregory Thompson’s play are depicted as archetypal Z listers – Big Brother contestants, Hollyoaks actresses, survivors of late night ITV flops – harbouring ambitions towards a higher art to which they are ultimately unsuited. The greatest tragedy of the play is when we realise Gregory produced this piece not primarily as a confessional act of atonement, but as a final desperate attempt to claw his way back onto the A list.
As with any production with such a young cast, there were inevitably a few weak elements: particularly among the cast for Gregory’s play, there were a few too many caricatures rather than plausible, thoughtfully developed characters. This however, may have been a deliberate effort to juxtapose the superficiality of the Z list celebrity starlets with the seriousness of the events they were depicting. Only Liberty (Becky Stordy), the actress who played Olivia’s counterpart, seemed to fully grasp the tragic depth of their play’s content, although she too, like Gregory, simply saw this as an opportunity for further self-elevation.
This was well crafted, thought-provoking and deeply moving project, and I urge you to see it.