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Against the Odds
Published on Saturday, 14 August 2010

4 stars

Hill Street Theatre (venue website)
5 - 30 Aug (not 10, 17, 24), 4.30pm (5.30pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

Given the countless trillions of random ways our chromosomes might have aligned, every single one of us exists against the odds.  But for some of us, Fate deals a harsher card; for some of us, the odds against success on this planet are longer still.  These are the themes of actor-writer Jade Blue’s challenging one-woman play, which burns slowly but, ultimately, brightly – and builds through joy and grief towards an all-but-unbearable end.

You can tell this is going to be a different type of show as soon as the lights go up, revealing a striking tableau of a woman clutching a briefcase – not unhappy, but insecure and alone.  With a precision that hints at something not quite normal, central character Flora fills the four corners of the stage with four very different objects.  They represent the four men and women who dominate her life, and who all have visited her today.  And as she moves from corner to corner, Blue steps into these roles in turn – slowly revealing Flora’s sad story and pointing the way to the crisis which comes only at the very end.

A few of the characters weren’t all that successfully evoked – the gambling granddad, in particular, seemed a stereotyped shell – but the ones which really mattered, she nailed.  In an especially memorable scene, lying on the floor, she switches between two figures simply by changing the position of her legs; it feels like it shouldn’t work, but it triumphantly does.  And Flora, of course, is at the heart of it all; she’s an adult now, but she’s still the lost little girl we saw on her first day at school.  Or was it school?  No… no.  It was somewhere else.

Continuing the theme of luck, Jade Blue plays the croupier; the order she presents the characters’ vignettes is set by the suits of cards she deals from a deck.  Since each scene reveals something significant about the people in Flora’s life, I accept that seeing them in a different order would change the colour of the play.  But, of course, there’s no way to tell for sure; even if I watched the whole thing again, I’d have to find a way to wipe my memory before I could experience it anew.  The gambit’s discreet enough that it doesn’t get in the way of the story but it is, I fear, one of those conceits which resonates less with the audience than it does with the players themselves.

In one respect, though, the card trick works.  There’s one symbolic card that’s never turned up, but is always on display; it’s the joker, Flora’s much-loved but long-absent dad.  It’s not through choice, we learn – and when he at last returns, the hand he’s dealt contains an unbearably poignant dilemma.  As a plot development it’s a little contrived, but it’s still the perfect conclusion; proof that sometimes in this world, all choices are the wrong one.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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