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Published on Wednesday, 07 August 2013

3 stars

theSpace @ Jury's Inn (venue website)
2-3, 5-10, 12-17 Aug, 6:20pm-7:10pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 16+ only.

This praise-worthy three-hander from Newcastle University begins with its tongue firmly in its cheek – but, as befits its blood-spattered genre, it slowly evolves into something rather darker. The action takes place on the set of a slasher flick, Porkiez (“with a Z!”), which we learn is being filmed at a predictably-isolated location somewhere in Estonia.

The weight of the storyline rests on Porkiez’ screenwriter, Parish, who’s played with finesse by an impressive Dan Bradshaw.  He and director Rosie Whisenant imbue Parish with a careful and measured tone, which at first sounds reassuring but – as more and more of his cast’s questions go unanswered – begins to imply something else instead.  It really is a beautifully underplayed portrayal, and the perfect match for Dale J Pearson’s cleverly slow-burning script.

The plot lacks a certain heft – even though the play’s just 50 minutes, I felt they had time to give us more – but what exists is well-conceived, and gently compelling.  For a reason we’re left to work out, Parish doesn’t want his cast to see the final pages of his screenplay, and the ambiguity over whether he’s evil or misguided is deftly maintained until the very final scenes.  A few nicely-drawn verbal images enhance the sense of gathering doom, and a couple of lighter touches serve well to break up the tension, too.

Splatter’s main problem is something which, in many ways, isn’t actually the company’s fault.  The script seems to be aiming for an air of creeping menace, and I think the cast – especially the disconcerting Bradshaw – could probably pull that off.  But they’re in a brightly-lit room at the top of a corporate hotel, with a noisy air-conditioner humming in the corner; and it’s hard to submit to a lurking sense of horror when surrounded by such obvious reminders of where we really are.  This just isn’t the right play for the space that it’s in, and I never quite felt the spine-tingling chill I was hoping for.

But still – I’d rate this as one of the better student productions at this year’s Fringe, and worth that trip up to the eighth floor of the Jury’s Inn.  I hope Pearson continues to develop his tantalising script, and I’ll certainly keep an eye out for what this talented company might do in the future.

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