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Precious Little Talent
Published on Thursday, 13 August 2009

Ah, how I love the Bedlam Theatre. Student-run and open all year round, its eclectic Fringe programme always contains a few treasures. And I've unearthed one in the form of Precious Little Talent, a sometimes-funny, often-painful, but ultimately-affirming exploration of young love and old age.

The play begins with an unexpected visit: the very English Joey has flown out to New York, for a reunion with her beloved but estranged father. We know that things aren't quite right with Dad's once-brilliant mind, but - until the memorable scene when the truth is suddenly revealed - Joey's unaware. Completing the line-up, there's Sam, the young American home help who's taken rather a shine to his employer's visiting daughter. It's a refreshingly simple set-up, which leaves plenty of room to explore the relationships between the three: father and daughter, patient and helper, suitor and object of desire.

And cleverly, our own perception of reality is coloured by which character is carrying the plot. One scene is replayed twice, with Sam and Joey in turn supplying the narration; what we see happen is subtly different each time, leaving a satisfying ambiguity about what really occurred. Similarly, when Joey - ignorant of her father's decline - is on the stage, he's the masterful, sardonic man she remembers. But moments later, when he's alone... I literally couldn't bear to watch.

I'm not surprised I was so affected, for the quality of the acting was uniformly superb. It feels odd to pick out one member of a cast which had no weak links, but Simon Ginty's opening monologue - building to a crescendo of hope and excitement, before suddenly crashing down - is what sets the play up for greatness. And kudos, too, for the rotating set, which showed that simple-yet-impressive staging is still possible even in the hurried world of the Fringe.

For all its strength and power, though, the script at times betrays insecurity. Joey and her Dad both have lengthy monologues which, though well-acted, simply weren't needed; I could viscerally feel their emotions, and it broke the spell a little when they stopped to explain them to me. At the end, too, as we unexpectedly swerve across cities to Obama's inauguration day, I felt the plot grasped for a neatly-wrapped-up message which really wasn't there. This is a play about the hopes and tragedies of three ordinary lives; it doesn't need to be any more.

Be in no doubt, though, these are just the critical footnotes to an overwhelmingly positive review. Moving, cleverly simple, and very, very well-performed, Precious Little Talent is precious indeed. It's a true delight to find such beautiful theatre alive and well on the Fringe.

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