I’ve never seen a play in a 20-seat theatre before but, with the gentle storytelling of Starfish, a small venue seems right. Newly written by Luna Rose and performed by a bright-eyed cast of three, it’s the story of a romance and the bumps along the way.
This is a tender, engaging and likeable hour of theatre, and a young company who deserve support.
In terms of storyline, Starfish covers familiar territory. Girl (Adeline, played by Rose) meets boy (Ben, played by Vinesh Veerasami) at a party. She’s wearing a gothic dress and talking to stars. He’s in a white shirt and tapping his cigarette packet nervously. Romance, infidelity, domestic disputes and pregnancies follow.
Veerasami cuts an earnest and sweetly ungainly figure as Ben, with clever use of empty auditorium seats during conversations with Adeline to further close the rift between actors and audience. Henry Esdon as Adeline’s alternative lover Adam (and a superb comic turn as a waiter) manages to stand out even in the smallest role, shifting skilfully between high energy and the intense stillness of withheld aggression. Rose’s acting is quiet, naturalistic and appropriately intimate for the small space, which allows for even sotto voce remarks to be heard, though this style can seem muted against the energy of her co-stars.
The script shows promise, but there’s much to be improved. There need to be more surprises, more unique aspects to steer it away from clichés. Glimpses of individuality do lift it, however. Adeline’s eclectic, inelegant dress sense (technicolored jumper and oversized dungarees) is particularly loveable when it is revealed she is a professional dancer. Adam hands over all of his personal belongings upon meeting Adeline to win her trust enough to use her phone. Ben stares at a bottle of gin at night while missing the absent Adeline. These moments demonstrate the quirkiness and originality that is still slightly lacking to lift the characters and their situations out of prototypical tropes.
The show is fast-paced and I was never bored, but it’s often too fast, moving from one key point in the relationship to another in a series of short, blunt scenes. The publicity material focuses on Adeline’s internal struggles ‘as she tries to decide what she wants from her life’, yet there’s not much that’s internal in the play. The only real monologues come from Ben, so Adeline’s psychology isn’t explored much. Rose, as the writer, could definitely afford to slow the whole thing down, create longer scenes and find her focus on many interesting topics- Adeline’s dancing career, her mental illness, her relationship with Adam, and the eponymous shape in the night sky, to name only a few- that she touches on but never fully explores.
This is a tender, engaging and likeable hour of theatre, and a young company that deserves support. Rose just needs to make sure she's bringing something fresh and focused to the table.