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Camden Fringe: Very Still and Hard to See, Etcetera Theatre

Part of the Camden Fringe 2013
Steve Yokey
Directed by Dan Armour
Pros: Some excellent characterisation, quite funny in parts.
Cons: Weak script, choral work potential was slightly untapped.
Our Verdict: The acting and witty delivery make this piece enjoyable to watch, but the concepts leave something to be desired. 
Credit: Tim Hinchliffe
Very Still and Hard to See combines elements of modern ghost stories with Japanese folk tales to examine the darker side of human nature. Buck Mason, a successful architect with a grim desire, finds himself at the bottom of a dark hole. He is confronted by a frightening, Japanese spirit who demands that he build his newest commission, a hotel, above the portal to an underworld.
If compliant, Buck gets to keep his life, but also to indulge in his hearts most sinister desire. Consequently Japanese spirits infect the American hotel. What follows is a handful of scenarios depicting characters affected by the malevolent spirits; compelled to act upon their impulses with shocking and macabre results. A submissive wife finds the strength to beat her husbands head in with a coffee pot, a jealous man sees his best friend and wife hung, and a betrayed woman throws her duplicitous husband down a bottomless, black hole.
The play was performed at the Etcetera Theatre, a nice little black box space above the Oxford Arms pub in Camden with friendly and helpful staff. The staging was simple with the cast all playing the spirits. Cloaked and hooded they surrounded the action, creating atmosphere when they weren’t performing in the scenarios.
The actors brought the piece to life with some excellent characterisation, with especially good and witty performances from Pauline Armour as the submissive wife, and Debby Griffiths as the betrayed woman. The choral work portraying the ensemble of spirits was very effective at points. The cast created eerie soundscapes and moved in formation impressively, especially at the beginning when Buck first encounters the spirit. 
Unfortunately, although a lot of Yokey’s writing is excellent in isolation, the series of short scenarios don’t ever really come together in any meaningful way. It’s only by consulting the programme that you know the spirits are Japanese for example. The combination by the writer of Japanese folk tales set against the backdrop of an American hotel seems a little tokenistic. 
Additionally, more could possibly have been done with the changes between scenarios which felt a little clunky at times. The choral work, which was very effective and well directed at the beginning, wasn’t utilised as much in, and between some of the later scenarios either, which was a shame.
Overall the acting and comic delivery from the entire cast made Very Still and Hard to See enjoyable to watch but the concepts were never fully developed or explored. This was especially impressive given the oppressive heat in the theatre on the evening I saw it. That the cast managed to stand under the house lights in the tiny space full of bodies, (because it was packed out) wearing heavy cloaks for over an hour and still deliver witty, intuitive and enjoyable performances was no mean feat. 
Seen the show yourself? Agree or disagree? Submit your own review with our Camden Fringe Big Audience Project.

Very Still and Hard to See has now finished its run at Camden Fringe Festival but it will run at the Edinburgh Festival from 12th – 24th August 2013. For more information visit: http://www.greensidevenue.co.uk/

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One comment

  1. I really enjoyed the play. It was fantastically arresting and irreverently funny with macabre humour. The portrayal of the female preternatural gatekeeper of the incorporeal hole to hell was mesmerizing yet ever so feminine with the demonic Greek-type chorus giving her a tremendous power. The way she strikes that Faustian pact with the architect was entrancing. Powerful performances by all the cast left me wanting more.

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