“Watson will certainly be a playwright to look out for in the future.”
Tension is build from the start even as the audience take their seats to the soundtrack Go! by Public Service Broadcasting. On the small stage is a brightly-lit office set: a desk and chair beneath a window, the view outside blocked with a heavy venetian blind. Large filing boxes are stacked to the right hand side. Go! fades and is replaced by the sound of public disorder: a large crowd shouts, chants and the sound of police sirens. Max enters: forehead glistening, his business shirt heavily marked with sweat. He twitches the blind to view the scene outside but rapidly turns away. This is clearly a man under a huge amount of stress, steeling himself for something momentous.
The mood is totally shattered by the loud strains Sinatra’s New York, New York, badly sung a cappella by staffers Tibby and Jons as they literally prance into the office. Their carefree existence is soon under threat however, when Max informs them that a graduate, Stephen, will be joining the team. Will the office dogsbody, Fizz, ever get her time to shine?
Max (performed by the play’s author Patrick Watson) owns the acting agency and employs the others. His company specialises in voice-over for broadcast news items. They don’t actually gather news: the blind remains resolutely shut on the disturbances outside. Instead it is their job to repackage and filter: deciding what makes it out for public consumption. This, along with the office politics, forms the themes of the play and results in the creation of a dark satire.
Light relief comes from Tibby (Aidan Clancy) and Jons (James Howlett), whose characters are totally outrageous. This leads to some incongruity because Max, Stephen (Joseph Campbell-Smith) and Fizz (Alex Burns) are played in earnest. If there is a weak point to this production it may be the characterisation. It is hard to imagine any of them having much of a hinterland, or existing beyond the performance space. Then again this may be intentional on the part of Watson, a sly nod to the morality tales of theatre ages past when audiences were presented with characters as symbols, used to represent deeper truths.
There is an awful lot to praise in this outing by Newcastle University Theatre Society. Production values are very high – way beyond those usual to the Fringe – with excellent use of sound, set and props. The actors all perform well within their remits so due credit to them and director Lucy Sherratt. This is Watson’s first play and he should be applauded for taking on big issues from the outset. If he continues to do so, Watson will certainly be a playwright to look out for in the future.
Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 25 Aug)