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This Time Tomorrow
Published on Tuesday, 12 June 2012

4 stars

Varndean School (venue website)
20, 27 May, 12:00pm-1:00pm, 1:30pm-2:30pm, 3:00pm-4:00pm, 4:30pm-5:30pm, 6:00pm-7:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Suitable for age 18+ only.

Returning to the Fringe for a second year – with the same concept, but all-new storylines – This Time Tomorrow is site-specific theatre trimmed back to its bare bones.  It’s mixed-bill of four short plays, set in four parked cars; it’s both an entertaining novelty, and a fascinating experiment in social conditioning.  With the tiny audience tucked, two at a time, into the cars’ back seats, there’s an irresistible thrill about eavesdropping on dialogues in such confined and personal spaces.  But the burning question for this, my second visit, was a simple one: would the acting stand up to scrutiny, now that the element of surprise was gone?

And the answer, triumphantly, is yes.  There’s no room to hide in the cramped confines of a Nissan Micra – but all eight of the actors proved equal to the demands of their exacting close-up roles, delivering understated but brutally realistic performances under Tig Land’s inspired direction.  Where an on-stage actor might milk their moments of high emotion, the team from Random Acts Theatre do something far more credible and powerful: turn their faces away, leaving just body language and occasional glimpses in a mirror to reveal their joy or pain.

Each of the four scenes stands alone, but it’s impossible to resist finding themes and parallels among the disparate stories.  Two back-to-back pieces featuring mothers and daughters worked particularly well together, cleverly confirming our conventional expectations and then joyfully knocking them down.  In the first car, a spikily practical mother unpicks a terrible secret – her anger melting to tender concern, as she confronts and then comforts her foolish, still-loved child.  It was a raw and affecting piece, which played to our innate human desire for support and reassurance in an often-frightening world.

But in the next car, it’s the younger woman who’s the sensible one, calmly guiding her overwrought parent through what she insists is the “worst day of her life”.  This proved my favourite of the pieces: it managed the difficult trick of tackling sensitive issues, yet staying very funny indeed.  The mother, an unworldly fuss-pot in headscarf and pearl-stud earrings, is a masterfully conceived – she so badly wants to be there for her daughter, yet she gets it so terribly wrong.

There’s one further overtly comic scene, which worked less well for me.  It gave a witty new slant to an age-old story of betrayal and separation, but despite committed acting and a car-load of local in-jokes, I found the intentionally-improbable scenario overpowered the piquancy and left too little substance to draw me in.  And – being a firm believer that theatre in unconventional spaces has to justify its site – I was left a little frustrated by the piece set in a camper van.  Despite a few references to past travels, there was no fundamental reason why the script had to be set there; at its heart, it was a miniature psychological thriller, which would have worked better in the more claustrophobic confines of an ordinary car.

But that was my only significant quibble; in the main, the pieces are perfectly matched to the vehicles we find ourselves in.  Far from proving limiting, the constrained environment sets us up perfectly for an emotional two-hander, or a power struggle between the occupants of the front seats of the cars.  And – with the windows blacked out to avoid external distractions – there’s a particular excitement while you’re waiting to find out which two characters are about to jump in.  At the end of my test-drive, then, I can confirm that This Time Tomorrow has a powerful engine beneath its eye-catching exterior… and I’m sure Random Acts will tune it up still further, fuelled the insights that only time in front of an audience can provide.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.