Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Freshers - Shrink Wrapped Theatre, 24/7 Festival Manchester

Writer: Steve Pearce
Director: James Blakey
Reviewer: Clare Howdon

‘Freshers’ by Steve Pearce certainly lulls the audience into a false sense of security. What you assume (from the first scene) is going to be light-hearted look at University life quickly descends into the decaying relationship between a father and daughter in the lengthy aftermath of their wife and mother’s death. Jumping to and from the 1980’s to the modern day, Fresher’s follows the optimistic beginnings of Miles’ and Hephzibah’s relationship to its tragic and untimely end twenty years later. Miles decides to return to the university where he and his beloved late wife first met, much to the dismay and resentment of his teenage daughter Scarlett who is also studying at the same University. What follows is a poignant look at how and if a relationship can be re-formed after such a painful and complex tragedy.

Steve Pearce’s writing is intelligent and accessible and he manages to build up the characters and tie up the loose ends with ease. He also appears to have a lot to say and this piece covers everything from the constraints and monotony of capitalist life to the education system. However I find Pearce’s writing more effective when he is observing the everyday relationships of his characters rather than his overtly socio-political observations. Although they are presented in the writing as debates between two politically acute bright-eyed undergraduates, they still sometimes feel more like the presentation of an academic study rather than a genuine and believable conversation between two people. Having said this, there are lines of brilliant observation; ‘Sell-by dates are a Capitalist ploy’ and ‘I’m content to be unexceptional, as long as I’m happy’, being two of my favourites. The repetition of dialogue and idiosyncrasies between mother Hephzibah and daughter Scarlett is also beautifully crafted and again reflects a strong writing style.

The excellent dialogue is also complemented by a strong cast. Richard Hand is particularly brilliant as Miles and manages to juggle the very swift transformations from young student to older and wiser father with complete conviction and believability. Laura Danielle Sharp plays the petchulant teenager Scarlett with ease and has a fantastic emotional range and energy whilst Christine Clare is endearing and charismatic as Hephzibah.

The direction by James Blakey is a little inconsistent. Whilst the dialogue between the characters is well paced and engaging, the scene changes are far too slow and flattens the energy of the piece in places. The interference of the radio coinciding with the slow and stylised movements of the actors is a little lack lustre and confusing and this needs to be tightened if it is to work as a theatrical device.
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