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Published on Thursday, 16 May 2013

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1 stars

The Warren (venue website)
13 May, 7:30pm-8:30pm; 30-31 May, 9:00pm-10:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.
 Suitable for age 16+ only.

How can it possibly have gone so wrong? Locally-based Witness Theatre have shown tremendous promise over the last 12 months, from a solid production of Earnest at last year’s Brighton Fringe to the creative, adventurous, playful piece they later took up to Edinburgh. Now, as the beneficiaries of an IdeasTap award, they’ve earned the opportunity to step up to the expansive stage of the Warren. And I’m sorry to say – they blew it.

Window starts well enough, with a positively Hitchcockian video of a young woman walking up a lonely staircase, eyes glued to the screen of her smartphone.  The message is clear – our love of technology makes us dangerously distant from the real world around us – but sadly, the production never achieves this level of visual or narrative coherence again.  Essentially a one-woman play, the plot involves recent graduate Alice retreating into a cyber-world of Twitter followers and Facebook friends, apparently never to return.  There are interesting concepts there, and the basic premise could have made either a tense psycho-drama or a dystopian sci-fi thriller – but I’m afraid Window isn’t either of those.

When the living, breathing Alice arrives on stage, it becomes clear that she just loves to monologue.  She monologues to her computer; she monologues to her phone; she strips to her underwear and monologues with her head covered by a duvet.  She monologues in a kind of blank-verse poetry, and the poetry, actually, is really rather good.  I could imagine it published in an anthology or a fashionable magazine, but in the context of this play it simply didn’t work; before long it was just washing over me, a languid stream of words.

And the production values were terrible.  One of the main gimmicks involves Alice, live on-stage, chatting by text with a mysterious and slightly creepy stranger.  But actor Siane Medoes plainly couldn’t see the words which were being projected behind her, so half the time she was answering questions her correspondent hadn’t yet asked.  When the text reached the bottom of the screen, we couldn’t read it because Medoes’ head got in the way – as it was inevitably destined to, unless she literally lay on the floor.  And then completely inexplicably, two very visible stage-hands arrived and ponderously split the screen into two… after which, half of the projected words were lost down the gap, into blackness.

Setting aside these frustratingly basic mistakes, I did enjoy the more cinematic sequences, which saw a pre-recorded film of Medoes thrown onto the vast screen while the real-life actor performed below.  But many of the projections just aren’t good enough: they aim to be a stylish focal point, yet they don’t have the visual flair or attention to detail needed to pull it off.  And the sound quality was equally poor, counter-acting the sense of claustrophobic immersion the show really needed to achieve.

In the final analysis, I just couldn’t engage with Window, because I couldn’t engage with Alice.  There wasn’t anything in particular to sympathise with: she doesn’t appear depressed, or disturbed, or unusually frightened of life outside her house.  The plot told me she was trapped in an existential crisis – but my life experience said it was a self-indulgent duvet day.  Just stir yourself and do something, Alice!  Anything at all.  Feed the ducks!  Buy that dress you wanted!  Go to see a play!  But not this one.

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