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Force Quit
Published on Monday, 08 August 2011

4 stars

The Bongo Club (venue website)
5-16 Aug, 4:00pm-5:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

In this inspirational play written by its own young cast, central character Rebecca lies in a coma – balanced between life and death, the victim of a car crash twelve months ago.  Surrounded by her diaries, and visited by apparitions from her past, she strives to piece together the memories she hopes will take her home.  But there's one date she doesn't remember… and people she doesn’t recognise show up in her dreams.  What happened on the fifteenth of September?  Who is Grace?  And does Rebecca really want to wake up?

Force Quit is this year’s outing from Blackburn-based St Mary’s College Youth Theatre, and the influence of the younger generation is plain to see.  In a sophisticated metaphor which, surprisingly, never becomes strained, the gap in Rebecca’s memory is compared to a corrupted computer file.  The menacing black-clad bullies who investigate her past are a vision of tech support gone bad; in one particular stand-out scene, they literally drag characters into and out of a dialogue, much as you might use your mouse to move computer files.

The ensemble cast are almost uniformly strong, and their commitment is impeccable; they’re perfectly rehearsed, with a discipline and focus that would put some professionals to shame.  Needless to say, such young performers haven’t had the same vocal training as their older peers, and that particular inexperience occasionally shows.  They did well in the more conversational dialogue, but the Kafkaesque interrogation scenes, for example, lacked a little punch.

The cast’s true strength comes through in the more physical scenes, which employ a host of effective stylistic tricks to create a simple but ever-shifting backdrop to the words.  Rebecca’s diaries, toppled like dominos, are pressed into service as stepping stones; the cast open books to reveal wall-charts, then combine them to make a billboard display.  Rapid scene changes add to the sense of confusion, and make excellent use of the notoriously-difficult transverse layout (with audience members facing each other on two opposite sides of the stage).  Occasionally the devices get a touch self-indulgent, but on the whole they’ve done well in finding that delicate balance between youthful creativity and mature restraint.

Crucially, the striking visuals are matched by an intriguing and intelligent script.  Layering mystery on mystery, it raises just the right number of questions at any one time, as the solution to one conundrum often unlocks another.  The ultimate resolution is clever and simple – and like the best-crafted detective novels, leaves you with the tantalising feeling that you could have guessed the truth all along.  The ending’s a trifle rushed, though: one of the mystery characters’ identities is revealed in a single all-important word, and if you’re not paying full attention at the critical moment, an important part of the plot may be forever lost.

Force Quit isn’t perfect, then, but it embodies all that’s best about Edinburgh: a talented young group performing an interesting new work, in a much-loved local venue which suits its striking style.  Tear yourself away from Bristo Square, and make the pilgrimage down the Royal Mile… this is the spirit of the Fringe.

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