"Excitedly Alive but Deadly Serious"
by Arthur Duncan for remotegoat on 10/11/17

Bristol Old Vic Theatre School students break fresh ground bringing Fin Kennedy’s extraordinarily intense, space-time warping, highly entertaining play to The Station - ie. the old fire-station as was, in the bustling heart of Bristol. ‘Students’ is a misleading term for these talented performers, mostly experienced already and absolutely professional in their work.

This riveting production, directed by BOVTS Artistic Director, Jenny Stephens, is material freshly different from everything else I’ve seen presented by this famous drama academy. On a set sparsely designed by Sarah Warren’s imaginative skill, a floor littered with a few grey boxes, in front of a metallic grey wall adorned with regularly placed heavy-looking doors, all grey and ominous like some apocalyptic morgue, the drama is played out in an atmosphere intense with foreboding. Enticing stuff for discerning theatre-goers.

Twelve actors make up this ensemble, each individual working harmoniously within the group but stepping out confidently into personal roles as the drama proceeds through bewildering twists and events totally out of real-time sequence. Our main man, Charlie begins his drudge-fuelled day, reciting his tasks as he repeats his unending routine. (We’ve all been there) This excellent performer is James Schofield.

It is not polite to single-out people from an ensemble which rightly should be judged as one entity comprising anonymous members, but among this talented bunch, Schofield deserves recognition for his convincing commitment to the central character he portrays so effectively. Schofield’s increasing energy intensifies with every crisis he encounters along a nightmarish pursuit of …. something, someone; a nurse who treats his wounds ...? Charlie is haunted by memories of his departed mother. Anyone familiar with Kafka’s Metamorphosis will recognize this disturbing world, fascinating to watch safely from the auditorium while an actor endures anguish and mental torments on our behalf.

Schofield owes some of his success to convincing inter-play with his superbly focused co-star Max Dinnen, (who also ought not be named but …) as Mike, Charlie’s antagonist. Dinnen is brilliant; the rock-like stabilizing best-buddy who advises, re-assures and misleads poor Charlie into the mire of worse confusion; teaching him how to lose himself, change his identity and escape the debts and responsibilities which are hounding him. (We’ve all wished we could do that). The scenes between these two men are compelling, yet there is humour over, under and between their lines.

Meanwhile their supporting cast in individual cameo parts, provide episodes of delight to lift the dramatic mood with comic ballet and idiosyncratic characterizations and with impressive group dynamics in movement imaginatively choreographed by Joel Daniel. These insertions create an artistic element, extra and complementary to Kennedy’s script.

All round, this is a damned fine show at The Station, one of Bristol’s many recycled gig-spaces in the former fire-station off Rupert Street. Enlist for Blue-Watch in the brigade before Friday 17th November.

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