Creating an effective vehicle for performers, be it musical, play, comedy set or improv format, is arguably the most challenging task a creative artist can undertake. Bad vehicles can rarely be salvaged even by great performers, while those creating the greatest vehicles have theatres named after them, be they Pinter, Coward or Sondheim. Putting words together to tell stories of depth and interest is a fearful undertaking. Doing it well is a life’s work, even for those with the talent required.
Much more to do in exploring character in depth, finding interest and surprising the audience
In this production, 18 year old Emily Brigstocke is taking on this challenge for the first time, in order to explore relationships and the power structures within them. She sets out to tell the story of eight characters aged 17-23 and their interactions.
Brigstocke is seeking to create a vehicle for her classmates from Hurtwood House, a private school for sixth formers in Surrey that proudly promotes its creative arts provision, describing itself as the “most exciting school in England”. There is certainly a dazzling alumni, with past students including professional composers, singers, film makers and actors, such as Emily Blunt and Hans Zimmer. In the group performing here, there are a range of talents, with Gracie Lupton and Ashton Henry-Reid standing out, the latter producing a particularly striking and effective portrait of an unusually upbeat young gay man.
The script has some nice touches and there is potential. However, it is only partially successful at feeding the cast. A range of conventional relationships unfold before our eyes. Boy meets girl over hot drinks. He turns out to have a fiancé already. Boy is settled with girl who is aspirational actor. He fears he may lose her to a lesbian friend and so turns for comfort to a younger girl met on a dating app. Girl wants to play the field and live on parents’ money (Sally Bowles-esque) even though these parents have already turned a sibling’s bedroom into a meditation room. These stories are interwoven with each other to create the play. We are asked to be interested in these relationships as they unfold before our eyes.
Fundamentally, though, many of the relationships are too conventional, too superficial, too safe and too shallow to be of real interest. There is plenty of teenage angst but not enough thought appears given to character in depth, not enough to light touch but revelatory backstory. Actions and reactions are often predictable rather than nuanced or surprising. Profound moments are lacking. The script wants to be edgy but this comes in the casual use of swear words and the presentation of a seventeen year old girl looking for sex with a much older man (he is an ancient 23) - there is little that feels truly bold or adventurous as these relationships develop. It is a bit like a toe dipped in cold water before squealing and backing away, cautious and risk averse.
There are moments of promise and interest. Lupton and Henry-Reid are given a powerful story to tell about a young gay man testing out his sexuality through an encounter with a girl in a nightclub. He touches her ‘left boob’ and dwells on it afterwards. When they meet again by chance, we see a burgeoning friendship, her asking him why he only touched the left boob and what was wrong with the right one. It is unusual, it is interesting, and it provides great material which two talented young actors pick up and use effectively. We need more in this vein.
Brigstocke should certainly be praised for a bold undertaking - pulling together a script and a Fringe show amidst her A Level year is no mean feat. But there is much more to do in exploring character in depth, finding interest and surprising the audience through her writing. The work continues.