"Verbatim theatre": that's those productions comprised entirely of dialogue lifted from interviews or public inquests, like the play Stockwell, which re-examines what happened to Jean Charles de Menezes. Real people, real events, are up for scrutiny on stage, but how much of what we see is reality? How much is lost or deliberately obscured in the editing process? How does an actor's choices affect our opinions?
Lines is a fictional verbatim play, structured around the events of a fictional verbatim play, that - do keep up - asks questions about the impact of verbatim plays. "Ian and Bill", the unseen-play-within-the-play, explored the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests. After a performance, one of the actors was killed by the man he was portraying. Lines records the later reactions and justifications of "Ian and Bill"'s writer and director, the actor's parents, and a colleague of the murderer.
It's a neat trick, but also much more than that. The play invites the audience to be critical and is so absorbing that - such is the legacy of verbatim theatre - we sometimes forgot we were watching something made up. Lines is a startlingly original piece from young writer James Fritz (who, in possibly the most meta thing we've ever seen in a theatre, was called upon at the last minute to replace a sick actor in the role of 'the writer'), and we also reckon you should keep an eye out for Tom Berish, playing the director. Another young buck (we should hate these people), a pretty face, compelling and with flashes of comedic excellence - yep, he'll crop up again.
Lines is paired with My Name is Rachel Corrie, an actual verbatim play taken from the diaries and emails of the eponymous activist, killed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003. The play has been on before in London but it's fascinating to watch after Lines. You find yourself wondering how much of Sophie Angelson's relentlessly upbeat performance is Corrie herself, or whether it's an actorly interpretation from the text.
It's probably a tougher gig performing this play - pretty much a lefty clarion call - here, after an hour of having doubt dripped into the audience's mind, than with any other production. The Rosemary Branch are doing a ticket deal for people seeing both plays as a double bill which is a great idea. On their own, each works perfectly well; but combined, they create something a lot more powerful and thought-provoking.
Both plays run at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, 2 Shepperton Road N1, until 30th April. Lines starts at 7pm, My Name is Rachel Corrie starts at 8.30pm. Tickets for a single show are £12 / £10, or see both in a double bill for £15. For more information see the Rosemary Branch Theatre website. Londonist saw both productions for free at the invitation of the theatre.