Thursday, 5 November 2009

Rage – Taurus Bar, Manchester

Writer: Craig Hepworth & Adele Stanhope
Director: Craig Hepworth & Adele Stanhope
Reviewer: John Roberts

It is always difficult to review fringe theatre, we should be standing up and applauding companies who are willing to put huge amounts of risk in producing new writing and encouraging new talent on the stage, but inevitably what you get is not always the golden pot at the end of a rainbow.

Rage is a fictional set in an American college during a mass shooting on the campus, seven students and one teaching assistant are huddled into Rachel’s flat and put on campus lockdown, whilst outside the police try and locate the killer(s) and bring safety back to the 30,000 students, inside there is just as much rage and anger as each of the students share what they believe to be at the heart of this massacre.

Rage is a piece of new writing that doesn’t quite know where to place itself. Hepworth & Stanhope before the performance wanted to make clear that although the event is fictional the words of the students and footage used are from actual events – so invariably what is being performed is a piece of verbatim theatre, but it doesn’t feel like that. True verbatim should be unbiased and allow the audience to come to their own conclusions, what we have here is a convoluted and manipulative script aimed to getting the audience to think like the writers (that bullying is the main reason for these shootings,) even the two roles in the piece which show an outside view (The teaching assistant and Dean) fall very quickly into the same way of thinking as the rest of the characters.

The play is punctuated by a news report – showing us and the characters what is happening outside the campus, a great idea but unfortunately this falls rather flat as Mike Gates (the reporter) is very flat and monotonous and doesn’t bring across the urgency and danger of what is actually unfolding, and being told by the cast...’look there’s another report,’ before watching a video soon became very tired.

This is a piece that urgently needs a radical overhaul, although these issues should have been found in the three workshops that have taken place on the piece since it was first conceived in 2006. This production needs an outside eye, having your writers, direct and also play two of the lead roles is not going to bring an impartial and artistic eye, but instead have two people so attached to the piece they have created that they can’t see the faults of the production anymore and this can be seen by the exaggerated performances throughout the piece...Taurus is a small space, so it needs a more subtle and nuanced performance from its cast than what is given, the pace of the production and the over use of breathiness is something that a dedicated director would have picked up on straight away (and the less said about the punch, that raised laughs for all the wrong reasons the better.)

It is not all bad though there are some excellent performances Brian Hook as gay student Ben, has a real understanding of his character and subtly portrays his own inadequacies in a perfectly balanced performance. Rick Carter produces some great anger throughout and is perfectly cast as the hardened sports player Mark, Although Emma Wilcox as Laura sometimes over played the emotion of her character a little too much, she definitely has a great talent and is a name to look out for in the future.

Rage now needs someone who is not attached to the subject matter or the company to give it the overhaul it needs to make it the show the punchy 75 minute one act it deserves to be than the overly long 2.5 hour play it is today!

runs until Sat 7th Nov
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