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This Time Next Year
Published on Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Promotional Image

4 stars

Varndean School Car Park (venue website)
11, 18 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

 World Premiere.
 Suitable for age 18+ only.

Another year, another assignation in the back of a stranger’s Citroen. This Time Next Year is the third of Random Acts Theatre Company’s unconventional annual forays to the Brighton Fringe – which see four short plays staged in the front seats of four parked cars, performed to audiences of just two people in the rear. It was, as ever, an enjoyable and refreshing experience, which proved once again that small-scale close-up theatre can be as effective as a grand spectacle on a distant stage.

My first appointment was with a prickly pair of sisters, whose occasionally-bitter exchanges were perhaps a little too realistic to hit the comic notes they often aimed for.  One of the punchlines is an absolute killer, though, and I left with a vibrant mental picture of the sisters’ oh-so-very-slightly troubled childhood; but I did wish the piece had a more substantial message or moral just to round out the conclusion.  In the second car we see a different kind of separation, as a camouflage-clad soldier prepares to leave for war.  But she – yes, she – has a secret to reveal, and when she blurted it out, it wasn’t at all the one I was expecting.  I felt that this, of all the plays, made the best use of the claustrophobic confines of the car – with a few almost-whispered lines creating a real sense of intimacy around its remarkably affecting storyline.

The third script is more intense still, opening with a finely-judged contrast between the two women in the front seats: one is painfully anxious, the other coldly focussed.  The crucial plot twist perhaps comes out a little early, but I still found myself feeling an intriguing kind of sympathy for the apparent villain of the piece – especially when she reverted to a sudden brutal honesty about exactly what she did, and exactly what she’s lost.  The electric atmosphere in this car contrasted to the light-hearted mood in the fourth, where two women playfully recalled their youth in the 80’s and made plans for their immediate future.  There was an infectious sense of fun to this one, though I did leave with a sense that I hadn’t quite understood it; a lot of the jokes revolved around one of the two women forgetting improbable things, and I was surprised when it ended without a clear explanation of just why she was so scatter-brained.

The big challenge for Random Acts – now that they’re nosing towards the status of “Fringe institution” – is to keep their concept fresh from year to year.  This time round, there’s the added twist that the plays are linked by a common theme, but I felt they hadn’t quite committed to this new idea.  We’re told it’s New Year’s Eve, but that really just meant the characters are on their way to parties: there’s no talk of resolutions, no sense of a fresh beginning, no countdown to the midnight bells.  It was a missed opportunity, I think, to create a genuine sense of a fixed point in time, to convince us that what we saw could only have happened on this one day of the year.

If I assess this play on the same criteria as a conventional piece of theatre, I have to say there’s some room to tighten it up, to work on the pacing and to slot the pieces together into a more coherent whole.  But that’s the critic in me speaking; as a regular punter, I just love this ongoing experiment, and the nerve-janglingly unreal experience of eavesdropping on a conversation in someone else’s car.  I feel I’m on a journey with Random Acts’ actors – even though the parked-up Citroens don’t actually go anywhere.  Let’s hope we do it all again, This Time Next Year.

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