Thursday, 27 August 2009

Stand by Your Van - Managerie - Edinburgh Fringe

Stand By Your Van by Anna Reynolds
Director: Paul Bourne

Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Fringe Rating: Four Stars

Produced by Menagerie in association with Pleasance and Escalator East to Edinburgh, ‘Stand By Your Van’ is a clever concept and an extremely enjoyable production. Spectacularly staged with a brand new vehicle at the centre of the action, twelve contestants compete against each other to be the last one standing, and therefore win the £25,000 pick-up truck prize. They have to keep a hand on the truck at all times, apart from five minutes each hour and fifteen minutes every six hours when they are permitted a break. There is no leaning, no sitting, no squatting – anyone breaking the rules, taking their hand off of the van or returning late from a break is disqualified.

The contestants are a motley bunch with presenter Phil ‘The Lip’ trying to keep them in line. Initially we seem to have a whole host of stereotypes on our hands, including ‘tart-with-a-heart’ Jane (Katherine Bennett-Fox), Welsh geek Edward (Neil Jones), and God-squad Vera (Danusia Iwaszko). However, as the challenge continues and sleep depravation takes hold we begin to see through each one’s facade and uncover their true character through admissions, conversations, and monologues.

All of the cast give accomplished performances in their respective roles, and the play is well structured to move the characters around to allow different groups and pairings to interact. In truth the play’s premise is just an excuse to trap the characters in close quarters so we can examine their relationships, but this is in fact the very essence of the reality TV style that they are referencing. A different character wins the show each night, so there is a fresh quality to the piece and made me wonder how different the show would have been on another night.

There are both funny and poignant moments from most of the cast, but Sydney Smith’s awkward, jittery Gerald and Gary Mackay’s foulmouthed Scot (Rob) were particularly noteworthy as they endured long into the production and kept upping the stakes. Bennett-Fox and Iwaszko played extremely contrasting characters, but did so with aplomb and subtly introduced their other sides. Darren Strange’s Phil is a brilliantly observed pastiche of all our most hated daytime presenters (with a large amount of Jeremy Kyle in the mix) – obnoxious, career-obsessed, and completely unsympathetic – and held the piece together, ejecting losers, facilitating breaks, and congratulating the eventual winner.

This was a very entertaining, and at times moving piece of theatre which everyone enjoyed and engaged with, with audience members spontaneously shouting support for favourite characters and responding verbally to Phil on each of his appearances. My only slight disappointment was the ending, which seemed to come very abruptly and as if they had run out of time. Perhaps it is not supposed to finish with a revelation, or with a bang, but this finished with a whimper which took away from the fine work the cast had been doing throughout. Definitely a play you will want to experience for yourself.

Pleasance Courtyard, 5-31 Aug (not 18, 25), 19:40 (21:00), £10.00.
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