Having seen and enjoyed Room 110 in the Camden Fringe Festival yesterday, we continue with our non-Scottish fringe theatre foray with some more new writing. Consisting of three consecutive monologues, Hostage/ Bleach / Burn has only half as many scripts as Room 110 but is equal in power and fringe theatre spirit.
Canadian writer Heather Taylor, director Gareth Corke and the three cracking actors Peter Henderson (Hostage), Samantha Wright (Bleach) and Matthew Bulgo (Burn) present the three monologues on one set with seamless 'handovers' so that it feels like a single unified hour of theatre.
Hostage is the bleak and bewildered rambling of a battered man held captive for undisclosed reasons, addressing his absent wife while reliving the last days of their troubled marriage. Bleach is a family tale told by a young woman caught between her father and her uncle who is keeping a secret. Burn is the complex recollection of a young man bullied as a child for having no father which then develops subtly into commentary on Quebec's attempts at independence, a mother's lies and the legacy that leads Pierre to drastic and shocking actions. Influences and references range from international politics to delicate domestic details, maintaining relevance successfully for contemporary audiences.
Despite the stark differences in the stories told and the characters who tell them, recurring themes and the consistent intensity of emotional recall unify this theatrical experience. Parallels and oppositions across all three monologues enrich the ideas and effects of each individual piece; they are companions and presented well together.
In the spirit of fringe theatre festivals, a lot is packed into the hour. This is an intense and involving hour, intimate as all monologues tend to be and made more so in the tiny space of The Etcetera Theatre. It is interesting to see how the quality of writing changes from the first to the third monologue – the third was by far the best, showing sophistication and a better understanding of how text translates to performance; the first which was presented last year at Theatre 503 lacks this awareness in some awkward phrases probably best enjoyed as poetry on the page.
Corke's direction was committed and consistent across all three monologues but lacked the nuance these monologues required. This is writing that is more sophisticated and demanding than the actors and director were capable of matching though not for lack of trying. Monologues are tricky for audience, director and actors – to be so involved in one person's speech / story requires skills, techniques and depth that even the most accomplished, years-in-the-business actors and directors would have to work very hard to develop. The potential for spellbinding and extra-special grade performances of the Conor McPherson / The Weir scale is present in the writing, the direction and acting in Hostage/ Bleach/ Burn – as with many things that flourish on the fringe, a year or two more to mature and develop and this could be a fine medley of monologues for a main stage.
Hostage/ Bleach / Burn, until Saturday 4 August at the Etcetera Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe. For more information and to book tickets, go to the Camden Fringe website here.