First Class

First Class takes the form of three intercutting monologues which follow the lives of three different people. Each of the three characters is on a train and each of them is faced with a big decision. They talk about their lives, occasionally enacting sequences with the aid of the other actors. Slowly, their stories are revealed. This is interspersed with some slightly more abstract linking sequences which utilise the train setting.

The monologues are all very closely intercut, with the actors constantly interrupting each other with their different stories.

The strongest thing about this show is the quality of the performances. The three actors skilfully manage extremely swift character transitions, as well as the vast emotional range required of them as their primary characters. Erin Elkin gives a very moving, distinctive performance as young mother Lydia. Joe Walsh presents his morally ambiguous character with sensitivity and Maddie Haynes brings a welcome subtlety to her representation of depression.

The script is cleverly put together and creates three engaging, nuanced characters. It has an unusual structure, since all the characters' stories follow exactly the same emotional beats in parallel. There is no doubt that this is effective: the play has strong narrative coherence as it swoops and dives through its emotional journey.

Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of narrative clarity. The monologues are all very closely intercut, with the actors constantly interrupting each other with their different stories. The story structure means that all the complicated exposition happens at the same moment, making it extremely difficult to follow. You are obliged to keep three different, constantly evolving stories in your head at once and it can't really be done. Everyone I spoke to after the show confessed that they missed part of the plot as a result of this technique.

The decision to make all the characters’ emotional beats match up also means the writer seems to have felt obliged to give each of them serious stories of equal weight. The result is that, although any one of these stories would have come across well alone, they seem more than a little melodramatic when presented together.

Aside from this structural issue, however, this is a strong piece of theatre from a very exciting young production company.

Reviews by Grace Knight

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Three lives, three choices, three trains. As seemingly unconnected people commute to Manchester Piccadilly for their own reasons, hidden stories of loss, guilt and devotion are firmly exposed and unveiled. Lydia, the destitute mother, Jack, a stress-ridden schoolteacher and Rachel, a struggling sportswoman are all on-board, each dwelling on the choices that led them down these tracks. Yet it soon becomes clear that their journeys are not as innocuous as they first seem. First Class is a new piece of writing by Edinburgh playwright James Beagon (Four Walls, **** ThreeWeeks, Edinburgh Fringe 2013).

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