Four performers share a flat in Edinburgh, the setting indicated only by the Fringe guides and flyers which share the single table in the play’s single room with a pair of biscuit-tins. These constitute almost the sole property of the clown, James (James Dobbyn), who shares the flat with reluctant medium Conrad (Conrad Jefferies), dancer Hannah (Hannah Calascione) and his taciturn companion Claudia (Claudia Grigg-Edo). The play, a new work by Bethan Kitchen, opens with James, alone, in thick make-up, choosing a seat and reaching for a tin.
For all that the dialogue is swift and well-paced, with moments of real humour, it never shakes of the greyness of the mood. There is a terrible flatness about the hour.
If this play has a subject, it is disappointment, the feeling of pointlessness which attends our attempts to express our true natures, to identify and satisfy our desires. The characters circle listlessly around their feelings of envy and dissatisfaction, all lacking “the thing” which will fulfill them and give their lives meaning. It is not clear how old they are intended to be, but it is not only the youth of the performers which gives the play an adolescent feel. Universal as these problems are, Kitchen’s view is decidedly from the vantage point of later youth. None of them are children, but none have fully matured.
The same could perhaps be said of the performances. They feel incomplete and a little awkward, especially the entrances of Conrad and Hannah. Their lines are deliberately confusing without context; as the two read a poem of their own composition it is inevitable that it should sound stilted and unnatural. Yet that feeling never leaves, even during ‘casual’ conversation. The whole thing feels rather like a rehearsed reading. At all times it is the script which occupies the foreground. The characters never fully materialise, the piece never really comes to life. It is more a new piece of writing than a new piece of theatre.
Much of the frustration of the play is intentional, of course. The characters repeatedly offer to make tea, only to be told that there is no milk; the motif of the fish-bowl and a feeling of limitation recurs throughout. Yet there is something uncomfortable about the way this depression projects onto the audience. For all that the dialogue is swift and well-paced, with moments of real humour, it never shakes of the greyness of the mood. There is a terrible flatness about the hour.
The mist is broken at times by glimpses of sunshine: Grigg-Edo is perfect as the reticent Claudia, obsessively applying sequins to a new blue bow with an expression of impossible sweetness. Her relationship with James is genuinely touching. Their shared moments of quiet contemplation are decidedly the highlight of the show. Another nice touch are the snatches of physical comedy, although too little is made of clowning in the show. There are moments of deliberate ‘business’ centring around James’ biscuit tins, which are quite comical, but the execution simply is not tight enough to qualify as good clowning and the effect is disappointingly diffuse.