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Island State, Waterloo East Theatre – Review

Written and directed by Dom Riley

Pros: A bold premise and some nice evocative background shots in between acts.

Cons: Poorly staged and lacking any real pace, excitement, or pertinence.

Our Verdict: A one-dimensional show that – in part owing to the misgivings of the venue – failed to create a connection with the audience. 

Courtesy of Richard Davenport and Waterloo East

We’ve all been there: settling down to watch this year’s hottest new film, when BAM! The aggressive music. BAM! The shaky black and white graphics. BAM! The snarling voice. The Smurfs 2 can wait: first we need to talk about piracy. One argument against it is that the quality is so bad, you might even get shots of the backs of people’s heads. For guaranteed enjoyment, you’re better off paying that little bit extra to enjoy the delights of a proper DVD or, even better, go to that well-known relaxing and peaceful place: the cinema.

Sadly, the situation warned against by the anti-piracy patrol materialised in the Waterloo East Theatre: close-ups of other people’s heads. Between me and the stage, I could count at least seven fuzzy silhouettes. What’s more, I was pretty much in the middle of the audience block, so I can’t imagine what it was like for those behind me. Well, actually, I can: more fuzz, less action. This wasn’t a great, I thought to myself, as I peered round an earlobe. And then, to confound things, the actors entered and proceeded to sit down on the stage. They were at their lowest point possible, meaning everyone immediately had to crane their necks even further. We were like meerkats. It was very unfortunate that the director didn’t take into account the theatre’s awkward audience position when staging this show.

Sadly, again, the play itself was not able to redeem matters. It comprised two characters: Josephine, a know-it-all/naïve homeschooled 17-year-old, and Marilyn, a 28-year-old hard-nosed survivor. Survivor you say? Yes, this was the future, and these were the last two people alive on a tiny island that was once Great Britain.

It was a daring set up, but almost immediately there were issues: the characters and their interactions simply weren’t strong enough to carry the whole play. I didn’t feel they were particularly uncomfortable during their shipwreck-like ordeal: their clothes were only slightly frayed, while their hair was still on the whole neatly bunched. And from what I could see, there was no staging or lighting to denote an encroaching tide, only the continuous sound of water lapping, that would at times drown out the actors’ dialogue. It’s a shame because the story promised much, but just didn’t fulfill its potential. Sorry, I feel like I’m suddenly reviewing Lost.

You can probably tell that I didn’t have the most inspiring of evenings. Above all, I felt it was an incredibly ambitious proposition for two young actors to hold the stage for an hour in this way – and in that respect it was commendable. But Beckett this was not: probably because it tried to to explain a little bit too much rather than go down the subtle, more mysterious route.

By far the most enjoyable moments were the interludes between the acts, where dreamy images of a flooded Britain shuddered to atmospheric music. And when the play kicked back into action, all I wanted was a gear change or twist to enliven me – although to be fair I do feel the poor visibility contributed vastly to this sense of disconnection. Indeed, at the start of the play, a man came to the front to ask us all to refrain from filming or taking pictures with our mobile phones. “You are being watched at all times”, he warned. Unfortunately, from my point of view at least, the same could not be said about the actors.

We don’t like giving bad reviews at Everything Theatre, but unfortunately I couldn’t recommend this production in its current form. If a few elements were re-thought, this would give Island State a much-needed boost. For example, if the performance was re-staged in such a way as to take into account the audience layout and improve visibility, this would immediately make it more enjoyable to watch. Hopefully the creative team will be able to take this feedback into account for future shows.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Island State runs at Waterloo East Theatre until 24th September 2013
Box Office: 020 7928 0060 or book online at www.waterlooeast.co.uk

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