It’s safe to say that no idea these days is ever truly original; it’s all been done before. It’s therefore also safe to say that stories about individuals coming to terms with age and their own mortality aren’t new. The originality lies in the execution and, with ‘Character’, Blackshaw Theatre have produced a piece of work that almost gets there.
What stood out to me most about this newly-written play from Florence Vincent was the clear intent to create strong female characters, free of generalisation. Michelle and Freya are indeed strong characters at the start of the play: they are intelligent and largely independent, full of flaws and insecurities, and not defined by gender or sexuality. However, as the story starts to unravel those old female stereotypes start to worm their way into the script, and that hurt it for me somewhat.
At the heart of it all is the relationship between those two lead characters, played with great energy and conviction by Angela Ferns and Clare Harlow respectively. The play lives or dies by how strongly that relationship is portrayed and, for the most part, it’s handled well. The two actors have a fantastic chemistry on stage, which bleeds into their characters, and plaudits should go to them and director Ellie Pitkins for that. The fact that the characters do become quite stereotypical by the end doesn’t hurt the performances themselves, but those stereotypes did stop me from fully believing in the friendship.
While Vincent may have been a hit-and-miss with the character development, she makes up for it with a script that is, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Certain comic set-pieces feel very contrived and fall flat, but the script is at its best when the humour is at its darkest. The dialogue between the two leads is also very good, and I get the impression that much of the banter is drawn from Vincent’s own personal experiences. It works.
The staging of the play also worked very well. The Selkirk Upstairs is a pretty small venue and, sitting in the front row, I was always within touching distance of the actors. That sense of intimacy and claustrophobia added to the mood of the play and, whether by choice or circumstance, it was well thought out.
Give ‘Character’ a watch at The Selkirk Upstairs and you’ll be given both a stark reminder of what is so fun and exciting about fringe theatre, and a warning of the pitfalls you can come across. It is the perfect example of what fringe theatre should be: a place for emerging artists to hone their craft as they move to the next level, making the odd mistake along the way.
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