I’ve written before about how I’m a sucker for an eye catching name and that applies equally to those of companies as well as show titles. So, when I came across a group called Expial Atrocious in the Edinburgh Fringe online programme there was no way I was going to miss them. Their piece is called Hear. Speak. See and it is an interesting take on the rising tide of interactive/immersive shows although this seeks to depart from the standard formats which can seem terribly static in video form. And this one isn’t a live show, so it makes things doubly challenging.
The set up is that you play a key, albeit silent character in the unfolding drama. I found myself invited to a dinner party by three women (Nic Lawton, Ez Holland and Faye Bingham) and the play then took place from my point of view at one end of the table. Occasionally “my hand” appeared to grasp a wine glass although I didn’t touch the food and declined to participate in charades (actually, that was quite frustrating when I knew the answer but couldn’t call it out!) So far, so civilised but there’s obviously a hidden agenda which only gradually emerges. The women seemed alternately jumpy and over enthusiastic about having me there and there are some absurdist touches to the dialogue and actions which are further unsettling. The three performers all handle the various changes of mood with skill and complement each other well as a trio.
Essentially it becomes the dinner party from hell and for me it would have been doubly so. The first two courses are a starter of tomato soup and the main a tomato bruschetta; what my hosts couldn’t have possibly known about me is that I am allergic to said red fruit/vegetable (take your pick) so this really seemed like they had made an uncanny and targeted choice. The fact that I didn’t touch the food was remarkably realistic and really upped the ante on me feeling uncomfortable. Mind you that’s nothing to how I felt by the end and I am only relieved that the denouement spelling out the real reason “I” was invited was fiction rather than fact. To find out what that is you’ll have to RSVP to your own invite, and it is worth doing so.
From an awkward evening meal I then moved onto an even more awkward breakfast (see what I did there?) although I’m afraid I found this less digestible (see what I did again?) The Sean And Gerry Breakfast Show features two middle aged talk show presenters making their debut on national radio. They are, no surprise, out of their depth and are soon making every mistake in the book. While he’s the more professional of the two, and that’s not saying much Sean (Drew Boone) takes the lead throwing things occasionally to Gerry (Paul O’Doherty) only to wish he hadn’t bothered (I know how he felt). The latter is far more interested in “taking the edge off” with a beverage or fifteen than he is in supporting their move into the big time. Meanwhile their producer (the voice of Niall McCarthy) voices his disquiet and reports back on the chaos the pair are causing in the outside world. Between them they manage to cause a double dip recession, throw the listening public into a panic as they predict horrendous weather conditions, convey the impression that the Queen has died, institute a motorway pile up and start an international incident with Sweden over disparaging remarks made about ABBA. And that’s all in the space of an hour and without leaving the studio.
Written by Jack Gallagher, Niall McCarthy and Fintan Morrison (who also play some of the station callers) what starts out as a droll idea soon begins to pall as it’s all too obvious that no radio station would hire such a hopeless pair. As it is, absurd situation heaps upon absurd situation and much of the escalation of events can be seen coming a mile off. Basically, the same joke is repeated to breaking point and the whole thing goes on for far too long. It is not helped by the almost totally static nature of the piece which has the pair sitting at a desk while all the action is off stage. The fact that for long stretches words are clearly and openly being read tends to sap the piece of any energy, especially as some lines are still fluffed. As the visual element is therefore virtually redundant the play might just as well have been presented as an audio piece which would, at least, have suited the medium that they were setting out to satirise. Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day but in this case I’d have been happy to give it a miss.
Today’s bonus Scenes For Survival piece is The Quiz by Isobel McArthur and Sanjeev Kohli. A 30th anniversary school reunion quiz over the internet run by someone who likes to be the centre of attention (Kohli); what could possibly go wrong? Everything it seems in this funny reminder of what life was like in lockdown
Hear. Speak. See/The Sean And Gerry Breakfast Show are available via the Edinburgh Fringe Festival click here
Scenes For Survival pieces are available from the NTS website – click here; a number are also available on BBC iPlayer – click here
To keep up with the blog and all the latest online theatre reviews please click here and choose a follow option
For my Theatre Online list (suggestions and news of newly released productions) please click here. This list is supplemented by daily updates on Twitter (@johnchapman398)