Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Stage Presence #1

"Air Guitar" by Peter Kesterston
Bristol Old Vic Studio, 04/02/06

Producer Mike is in the West Country of England, overseeing a low-budget but popular digital TV 'reality show' about vets, and decides to look up his older brother Edward. The two have been estranged for the past decade and attempts at a reconciliation initially flounder. Edward was a promising science student, but a number of personal traumas have led to him going 'back to nature', living in a rundown caravan, with troubled teenager Jan his only companion. Mike has an reason for rekindling his fraternal relationship, whilst Edward has own sinister reasons for complying. Bonding briefly whilst playing air guitar and recalling their activist youth, Mike becomes increasingly concerned that Edward is still very much active and threatens to destroy Mike's world...

Kesterston's first full-length stage production won the 2005 Southwest Scriptwriters Playwriting Competition and it's not difficult to see why. The writing capitalises on the small cast and single location - Edward's exposed yet claustrophobic countryside retreat - to create a narrative that simmers with tension and impending menace. The script explores compromise, betrayal, jealousy, sibling rivalry, political conflict and the consequences of taking these beliefs to their logical conclusion. Despite the challenging themes, Kesterton imbues the script with humour, sometimes 'laugh out loud' (the air guitar sequence), sometimes uncomfortable ( Edward's return from hunting rabbits). The play's denouement becomes increasingly inevitable, yet is delivered convincingly, thanks to the strong cast and effective direction from Jilly Bond. Russel Boulter gives a suitably edgy performance as Edward, effortlessly conveying the fragility, yet disturbing focus, of the central character; Nicolas Chambers, though initially seeming over the top, eases into the role of Mike, enabling the audience to empathise with the character's predicament; Becci Gemmell successfully captures the superficially simple but inwardly complex character of Jan. Designer Colin Williams creates an authentic set, from the rusting, mildewed caravan to the footworn, anaemic grass and encroaching foliage that isolates Edward from the outside world. A sharp soundtrack underscores Edward's somewhat naive politicism, focussing on U2's "Bad" and live version of Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower", whilst the eponymous scene is played out to - what else? - Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town". "Air Guitar" is a shining example of a play thriving on, rather than struggling with, it's limitations.
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