Forever, a new play by Clare Sheppard and Kenny Boyle who also star in the piece, is clearly a labour of love. However, given the short shrift love itself gets in the site-specific drama, one wonders why they’ve bothered brought this to Fringe.
The plot is ridiculously simple - inside St Columba by the Castle Church, Steven waits to get married, exchanging some comic lines with his best man Colin before his bride arrives. A woman enters but it’s not his intended. Instead, Nicky, his ex of five years ago has come to give her blessing. Essentially, the play takes the equivalent scene from Four Weddings and A Funeral, robs it of most of its humour and all of its pathos and drags it out to fifty minutes of melodramatic moralising. Indeed, it falls closer to a Corrie special, only without interesting characters. Everything falls out very predictably if one is familiar with overwrought soap-opera dramatics, but there’s absolutely no reason to care. Cliché after cliché runs by - ‘Look me in the eye and tell me I mean nothing to you,’ Vicky implores. You mean nothing to me, Vicky.
It’s a shame the plot is so achingly dull, because the actors do put their hearts and souls into their performances. Unfortunately, perhaps because they wrote it drawing on their own experiences of love, the words obviously mean a lot more to Boyle and Sheppard than the audience. Moreover, because it comes as one scene, there’s no way of getting to know Steven and Vicky, or empathising with them, particularly since we’re told little to nothing about them. The ‘shared, secret moments’ they reminisce about are almost distressingly generic. In fact, there’s a lot of telling, rather than showing – Emma, the unseen bride, has to be the worst drawn character of a bad bunch, but learning ten minutes before the end that Steven is ‘honourable and decent’ after the thoughtless amoral yoyo-ing we’ve seen him do is close to laughable. Only Colin (Darren Thorpe) displays an identifiable, interesting personality, being broadly painted as a ‘bro’ but also delivering a heartfelt best man’s speech. Though totally incongruous to the tone of the rest of the play, at least Thorpe makes the audience laugh.
The space, an actual church, adds a lot to this production - while it necessitates a lot of craning of necks, the naturalism of the setting works to mitigate some of the worst moments of melodrama. Occasionally the blocking becomes a little awkward as the actors fight to show off every inch of the stage, but generally it works well. However, it makes it even more inexplicable that the quietest moment of the show - as Vicky sits alone in the church, alongside audience members, contemplating - is interrupted by Jose Gonzalez’s Heartbeats, like some bizarre intermission music. It’s completely out of place in all aspects but one - it’s perfectly generic, like every character and every word of this play.