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The Station: Fourstones
Published on Saturday, 21 May 2011

3 stars

The Nightingale (venue website)
20, 22 May, 7:30pm-8:25pm; 19 May, 9:00pm-9:55pm
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

 Suitable for age 15+ only.

An intriguing exploration of a choice facing Al, familiar to many of us upon reaching age of majority: whether to take a path which beckons him away from the Northumbrian village he’s grown up in, and if making the journey is the only way find himself.  In this evocative and original one-man play, Al (Malcolm Hamilton) contemplates the cornerstones of his life – a life which has thus far unfolded within the boundaries marked out by station, pub, church and school.

And at about the same time a key character in Al’s childhood, his grandfather, dies. Through inspection of the artefacts granddad symbolically left in a trunk, Al discovers both a grandfather, and a world he never knew, all on his doorstep.

The performance opens with the spotlight tellingly upon a collection of old-fashioned suitcases and a flask – no prizes for guessing that the focus is on a journey. When Al finally appears (for some reason he starts off speaking in the dark) he is wearing brown woollen trousers, leather brogues, and a waistcoat; very northern rural working class. The costume is fitting of the play’s setting and Al’s recognisable Geordie-like accent, but the play has a universal theme; it is testament to Hamilton’s skill that the clothes enhance an audience’s imagining of the characters he brings alive, without losing the fact that the play might surely be set almost anywhere in the world.

Whilst he has an engaging theme – and an innovative way of presenting it, using mime and skilful mimicry to evoke a whole cast of characters – the show is not as visceral as might be expected from the publicity blurb. All the same, there are some lovely, vivid moments: the chat at granddad’s funeral scene is particularly memorable, both for the scripted dialogue and the ease with which Hamilton slips in and out of each of four or five characters.

Regrettably though, these moments do not add up to a performance which succeeds overall.  At the end some of the audience were left scratching their heads, asking for example, what was the repetitive factory line job Al’s grandfather did? It really wasn’t clear from the mime. In the grand scheme of things the actual job doesn’t matter to the story, but since Hamilton took the trouble to include it, a thoughtful audience dearly wishes to fully understand.

The Station’s stop at the Nightingale is part of a well-promoted countrywide tour, and it may well be that opening night in an unfamiliar theatre was less stunning than normal.  All said, it’s a skilful performance, and it won’t take much to lift this play into something more.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2011.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.