At first glance, Tissue is an exploration of a fascinating topic: breast cancer. At times it seems to be what happens when you are young and a sufferer of breast cancer, and sometimes it is about being a young adult suffering, with breast cancer, but at no point is it clear where the story falls due to its non-linear narrative and young cast. It is this general passion-fuelled confusion that leads to a very mixed and perplexing performance.
The company, to paraphrase the programme, seeks to put the physical back into theatre via the use of an ensemble. However, the ensemble’s presence is rarely justified. Their movement seems to fall into three areas: dance sequences that do not seem to portray anything; movements to dialogue that could portray something under the surface. but instead act more like sign language; and the creation of scenes through movement and voice that very rarely work (but lead to an excellent car, with potentially overactive windscreen wipers.) The movement also always fails to create a fluid performance; lighting changes and music interrupt and swap scenes where they could, along with movement, create a flowing piece. Instead the scenes that last only a couple of seconds feel awkwardly brief when the interludes go on about as long. Considering the show is in a constant state of flux, there is no need to break it up given that it is designed to be created by the ensemble, who perplexingly seem to enter and exit all the time instead of just staying on stage and creating a richer image where need be, or just remaining on stage at all times.
There are some good performances to note in the cast: the ex-boyfriend and the mother are both heartfelt, warm characters (although the choice to cast the same man as all Sally’s boyfriends past and present is unnecessary in a cast featuring several men). Sally, the main character, carries the show marvellously even if at times she is more proclamatory than emotive; this can be excused due to the often overly didactic nature of the script, which is so blunt it could bludgeon a passerby with its constant stating the obvious. However, the script can be improved if the direction differentiates the scenes in the fragmented narrative beyond ‘childhood’ (that seems to cover everything up to about 18) ‘hospital’ (that seems to bleed into everything else) and ‘life’ (which also melts into all the other sections.) The characters are not distinctive enough unless they become caricatures; due to a weak script they are not hilariously bold in speech to validate extreme characterisation.
This is a show that needed a firmer objective eye to watch it. The show’s lighting plot (and admittedly it was the first night) did not say anything, nor did the movement, and the script said so much that you ended up rolling your eyes. Sometimes an attempt to be funny lead to insensitivity - including the movement sequence of the surgery towards the end - and often the decisions on multi-roling left some actors playing all the lead roles and some playing none at all. Someone needed to swap a few parts round, link everything together, differentiate scenes a bit better, and chop and change the script because it went on about twenty minutes too long. It is a performance that shows promise, but just needs a big dose of direction before it’s anywhere up to the level that other pieces of theatre are working at in the festival.