The Space is currently running its Foreword Festival, a wonderful scheme giving playwrights the chance to submit early drafts of scripts. Four of the best are selected, teamed up with young directors and produced by the venue, each running for a week.
Stapleton has a talent for building suspense and creating truely complex characters.
This week’s offering was Mycorrhiza, which, as the writer Luke Stapleton helpfully points out in the programme, is pronounced ‘Mike-oh-rize-a’. The play is set on a small piece of land which gets cut off from the mainland at high tide. Two best friends, Alicia and Dean, come here to skip school and then end up back six years later. The show flips between the two time periods until each of the separate storylines are completed.
Corrina Buchan, as Alicia, is wonderful to watch, particularly in the scenes set whilst the characters are skipping school. She balances aggression and insecurity, hiding a secret she wants to share but can't bring herself to. This internal struggle is made completley believable by the actor and there is no doubt that her's was the more dominant character of the two – Dean was wrapped around her little finger.
Scott Afton was very likeable as Dean, goofy and in awe of Alicia in the childhood scenes, but able to bring a whole new depth to his character in the scenes six years on, in which he appears to be a lot more sinister and scared. It was clear from the start that the older Dean had a secret agenda, and Afton delivered a wonderful monologue towards the end of the play which had the whole audience on the edge of their seats.
The writing was, on the whole, very good; Stapleton has a talent for building suspense and creating truely complex characters. The issue, however, with this episodic style of storytelling is that after a great build up there is a blackout and every new scene takes the suspense back to square one. The tension is then slowly built again, before being cut of by another blackout and laborious scene change, leaving the audience finding themselves minutes or hours after the last cliff-hanger. This then requires extra hard work to get the audience reinvested. I would have loved to have a scene play out to its end, without an Eastenders’ style cliff-hanger, giving the actors and director a chance to really dial the tension up to eleven.
Each character had a time period during which they were in the spotlight: Alicia had a secret in the past, and Dean had a secret in the present. Unfortunatley, the other character in each scene did not really have any story arc at all, at least not until Alicia's in the closing moments. Up until that point it was as if her character had not changed at all in the six-year gap.
The director, Sepy Baghaei, got the most out of the space and cleverly staged the audience around the ‘beach’ of this island, but the scene changes needed to be faster. The older versions of the characters had far more costumes and props than the younger characters which needed to be cleared and then brought back on between each scene, and the more props that appeared, the longer this process took, sadly detracting from the storytelling.
The actors' blocking, however, was well staged, making their movements across the space believable and never forced, whilst keeping our attention fixated on the right place.
Baghaei also did the sound design, including some good choices of songs between scenes, although there could have been some more spread throughout the scenes, underlying the tension at points.
Lighting in The Space is always tricky but Vanessa Morton did a good job with what she had available, using harsher tones for the wintery future scenes.
The highlight of the play was Dean’s monologue as it really showed off the best of the writing and acting displayed. Unfortunately, this character seemed to be too far removed from the Dean we had seen up until this point. If it wasn’t for the fact that we knew he had a secret, it could have been a third character entirely.
Mycorrhiza was fun and engaging but not without it's problems. Stapleton, once he hones his craft, might well be a name to look out for.