When Molly and Ryan (Emma Garnett and Perry Pullman) move into their new home, the first person they meet is Jack (Scott Cain), their rather odd and sinister neighbour. Jack is dark, morose, clearly hiding something, and this shiftiness is reinforced by his insistence that his sister, with whom he lives, isn’t well or seeing visitors. Ever. He is also obsessed with his “20 is plenty” campaign, aimed at reducing the speed limit on their street. It’s a campaign that Molly takes to wholeheartedly, much to the despair of Ryan.
The Sign sets itself up as a tense mystery; it’s very clear that Jack has skeletons in his closet, and that his obsession with cars and speeding is going to be a major part of the story. Certainly, early on it does have a nice dark brooding feel to it, making you want to find out that secret, however much it seems it is going to be obvious come the conclusion. When he declares “we don’t care for fast cars and revving engines in this area” you almost sense a League of Gentlemen vibe coming on; “this is a local shop for local people, we don’t much care for strangers here”.
Unfortunately, whilst you do feel invested in knowing more as you watch, eager to discover the truth, and wondering if you have worked it out well before the end, the play doesn’t quite deliver on that initial set up. The efforts of the (unnamed) director to drum up suspicion and tension with some camera close-ups, as Jack gives dramatic speeches, doesn’t help: (note to others: zooming in tight on a face isn’t a sure-fire technique to build tension, especially when it means going out of focus).
It’s not to say The Sign isn’t an interesting watch, but you risk reaching the conclusion early and feeling cheated out of something more. Jack’s initial creepiness, his darkness, his brooding behaviour, all seem to waver between scenes. It’s as if Cain is too unsure of his character’s motives to know how to play him as the story unfolds. This feeling of uncertainty isn’t helped when late on, with some strange goings on around Ryan’s car maintenance, a moment occurs which suggests something that ultimately doesn’t seem to tally come the end. In fact, it has the effect of making it feel like they decided to change the ending, then forgot to cut the offending moments during the final edit.
The Sign might fail to quite deliver what it initially teases you with, but there is a nice creepiness about it that makes you wonder if, given time and some rewrites, it could be turned into a piece much more worthy of attention. What you currently have instead is an interesting set up that ultimately falls short of expectations.
Written by: James Coare
Produced by: Better Day Production
The Sign is playing as part of Online@TheSpaceUK Season 2, and will be available free until 31 January. This show, plus many others, can be found on the website below.