Four students fresh out of sixth-form take inspiration from Philip Larkin’s famous poem ‘ This Be the Verse’ (They f**k you up, your mum and dad/ They may not mean to, but they do…) and turn it into a short devised physical piece centring on the disenfranchised victims of poor parenting. In recent years, devised physical theatre has gone from strength to strength; one only has to look at companies such as Curious Directive or TongueTied to see how professional, potent and thrilling devised theatre can be. Unfortunately, Furness Influence fail in their attempt to emulate such successes.
There is something very ‘A-Level’ about it all. All the hallmarks of low-budget, angsty theatre are there: everyone dressed in black in a black box space; angry red lighting; speaking in unison; stereotyped characters; a general atmosphere of enmity that is never fully justified. This approach leaves the performance feeling unpolished, unsophisticated, and superficial. The piece does not reach the depths necessary to give the audience any epiphanies about a child’s relationship with its parents. It opens with a recital of the poem and does nothing to explore why your mum and dad f**k you up, but simply reiterates that they do and that life’s pretty horrible as a result.
There are some good moments in the show, as well as some impressive ideas and concepts, but the whole thing feels under-rehearsed and slow. The performance also lacks focus and can often seem like a jumble of ideas hastily stapled together without much thought and then strapped onto an overarching narrative. There are several instances in which the pace drops, usually when the whole cast are required to lug about large black boxes to set up for the next ‘scene’. The dynamic staging is a great idea, but could have been slicker in its execution to help keep up the energy of the piece and match the energy of the four performers who each put their all into the show.
Nevertheless, Influence remains purposeless. It neither fully explores issues, nor does it resolve the very basic problems it highlights. It says nothing more than Larkin does. In saying less, it undermines the purpose of the performance. Perhaps in future these young performers will be able to create something with more bite and depth, but for now they will have to just chalk it up to experience.