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Published on Wednesday, 10 August 2011

3 stars

Bedlam Theatre (venue website)
7-13 Aug, 3:25pm-4:05pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

Bedlam at the Bedlam Theatre!  Thanks to a careless error in the admin office, two plays – both called Vertigo – pitch up at the same time, and on the same stage.  On occasion, the resulting shambles is just a little bit too real; but the show must go on, so the two actors dip into each other’s roles and prop-bags, ultimately putting together a genuinely uplifting parable on overcoming nameless fears.

Predictably enough, both of the plays are comedically rubbish – a fact which clears the way for a fair few giggles.  His push-bike (it’s called Cinnamon) and her ladder (called Alice) take on characters of their own, especially in one memorably over-wrought scene recalling a minor childhood misfortune.  The physical comedy is well-done, never becoming intrusive, and both actors are expressive in their admittedly-hammy roles.

But those pacier moments are punctuated by an awful lot of chatter, which left me mentally fidgeting and wondering where the whole thing was trying to go.  For a forty-minute play, way too much time’s spent explaining the set-up – yes yes, it’s a double-booking, now let’s move on – and the characters’ all-important motivations came out painfully slowly for me.  Towards the end of the play, as we learn about the clashing actors’ own vulnerabilities and fears, the script becomes much more engaging.  But we need more of their back-stories, earlier on, to help draw us in from the start.

And the central conceit of performing two plays at once felt somewhat under-used.  At moments there’s a clever parallelism – for example, he talks about his most-feared bogeymen just as she acts out a peaceful memory from her childhood – but mostly, they take turns to play their respective scenes, which dovetail together a little too well.  With very few changes to the script, these could have been two stroppy writers quarrelling about the direction of a single play… and that, I think, proves that something’s been lost between the concept and the stage.

Yet the whole thing’s saved – just about – by a sweetly redemptive ending, which reveals that the duo’s fear of falling is really just the trepidation of launching into adult life.  There’s the bones here of a quirky, thoughtful comedy, with a real lesson lurking in its tail.  It needs a bit more work to realise that potential, but there’s still enough here to enjoy.

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