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Published on Wednesday, 14 August 2013

3 stars

Underbelly, Cowgate (venue website)
1-11, 13-25 Aug, 8:05pm-9:05pm
Reviewed by Ellen Macpherson

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

Highlighting the vast, hidden issue of people who disappear, Missing is one of this year's Very Important Pieces – and it’s a fairly difficult one to review objectively. Despite having a lot of time for theatre that broadcasts social issues, I generally dislike being preached to. So while I’m certainly conscious that this is a vital point to discuss, I'm not sure that Missing manages to cross the line between information and activism over to art. It has promise as a show but it doesn't quite hit all the right notes for me.

Missing is a verbatim piece, made up from interviews with journalists. The verbatim aspect adds realism and believability, and it’s broken up by interpretive sequences, which introduce a much-needed and very-effective second layer and avoid monotony. The production is built around real people. Quite predictably, it opens with a mention to Madeleine McCann, but it soon transitions into lesser-known cases that illustrate a central message about the lack of attention given to most cases.

The dialogue was moving and had the potential to be soul-shattering, but it was let down slightly by some flat characterisations. On the other hand, the fact that these were real cases made the production more captivatingly sad and eerie. For me, the best performance came from Andrew's dad – it portrayed the subtle, yet extremely powerful sense of emotion that I had been expecting.

Logistically, the play ran very smoothly. There is no actual set to speak of – the actors move boxes around to create spaces for a scene. There was a small issue of noise from an adjacent performance space at Underbelly, but this is more of a scheduling fault than anything that can be rectified by Engineer Theatre. As you might imagine, the piece has a very abrupt ending with very little closure, much to the chagrin of the couple sitting next to me; but on my part, given that this play is trying to push a message, it seemed logical that the ending tried to enforce it.

Overall, I feel this piece might have been subtler – and ultimately had more of an impact – if the verbatim interviews were integrated with played-out scenes, rather than monologues. With the whole cast essentially talking at the audience for an hour, it unfortunately did feel like a lecture rather an art form. As sensitive as I am to the fact that this is an important and largely underpublicised subject, I believe art and information can be better merged to create a more engaging piece of theatre.

Undoubtedly, plenty of people will see this show based on previous reviews and headlines, allowing Engineer Theatre to reach a large audience. And it certainly does bring to light a range of important considerations which are worth spending time thinking about. But for those of you who don't enjoy obvious infotainment, I'd hold out on seeing this one.

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