Sometimes you find yourself watching a play and wondering if you have missed something vital, perhaps key to the whole story. That was how I felt about two thirds of the way through Avalanche, an online play from Bloom Theatre. It was a nagging feeling – maybe I’d lost concentration for a second, or I’d simply misunderstood a moment of importance? Of course, being made to think a little harder is no bad thing; sometimes those worries may just be part of the writer’s intention, and it’s not until you’ve watched through to the end you can really decide on how you feel about it all.
Avalanche falls very much into the ‘difficult monologue’ category of online plays. I say difficult because when watching from the sofa there can be so little to keep your attention from all the distractions that you simply wouldn’t get if you were sitting in a dark, quiet theatre. Such plays really do live or die on their combination of good writing, directing and performance. And in all three regards, Avalanche has merit.
Firstly, Simon Fraser and Albert Cook’s writing creates an unusual setting – a good start in keeping your attention. It takes us to an unnamed location, although with its talk of skiing as a job it doesn’t seem likely that it’s anywhere local. And then there is our central, and again unnamed, character, who talks of his life where it’s either “a job on the mountain or a career in the valley”. The opening scenes are well presented, creating as they do that feel of a quiet little village somewhere remote, where everyone knows everyone, where nothing exciting ever happens, even if they do live surrounded by snow.
Next, Alistair Wilkinson’s directing helps it avoid being just forty minutes of watching the same figure sitting talking, alone on a bare stage. A momentary close up, a change of position, a blending of visuals as our actor glances up at the white backdrop, a nod to the mountains he lives under; all are subtle, but work together to ensure things don’t get too static. And thirdly, there is Sonny Poon Tip’s performance, in which he manages to portray the boredom and monotony of his surroundings and, underneath it all, his anguish at what has happened.
Ah yes, something has happened! We are back to the nagging doubt that I’d missed that very something. I rack my mind, thinking back to previous moments, trying to place what it is. Finally, it dawns; that one scene that the whole play centres around! That brief moment when he talks of what happened! A scene that on first glance is just another tale of a drunken night! And yet, in not spelling it out, not saying what it really was, it can so easily pass you by. It’s not until you start to think back, trying to piece together what you have missed, that you realise how badly you misread that moment. Is it intentional in its subtlety? Or is it a lack of concentration on my part? Who knows? But for me, this is what makes this play worthwhile and what suggests this writing duo have much to offer; that you have to think about what really went on and how it fits with the rest of the monologue.
Avalanche is subtle, it’s a slow burner, yet its forty-minute running time seems to pass by in a flash. It is a beautiful little play that would not be out of place on the stage of many of London’s fringe theatres.
Written by: Simon Fraser with Albert Cook
Directed by: Alistair Wilkinson
Produced by: Bloom Theatre
Avalanche is available until 7 February, £7 via Bloom Theatre’s website below.