Last summer, this group’s offering was The Norman Conquests, a reliable staple of rep and amdram, and by all accounts capably pulled off. Maybe after that success a voice, either imagined or human murmured ‘Good dear, but try something a bit more adventurous next year’. This is it, and it really is an absorbing and superbly executed piece of theatre.
A Single Act deals with the consequences – or perhaps that should be ‘subsequences’, as the causal effect is not always obvious – of an unspecified 9/11 style atrocity in a London-like city, as experienced by two couples, urban professionals Clea (Katherine Stevens) and Neil (Philippe Edwards), and ‘own boss’ Scott (Tom Myles) and his teacher girlfriend Michelle (Lucy Hirst).
It is a deft piece of writing, drawing the audience in from the beginning and ingeniously revealing its unusual structure as it unfolds, illuminating love, obsession and despair against a broad context of a terrorised society. Director Jamie Manton places both couples in the same shattered space. An unexplained inverted table, scattered sheets of paper silently dominate stage right. A double bed is a mattress on the floor and hints at a squat, even though neither story needs it – perhaps a suggestion of post-apocalyptic squalor? Each scene overlaps the previous, all four actors on stage together in hauntingly choreographed ‘dissolves’, the couples’ lives close but not touching, save only once.
None of these performers can be much more than 21, but they all demonstrate a professionalism and sharpness of observation that belies their years. The script offers the two men somewhat less opportunity to show range than it does the women, but Philippe Edwards has a striking stage presence which he uses to powerful effect as his character’s credibility collapses, and Tom Myles manages to derive remarkable resonance from a character who does not easily gain the sympathy of the audience.
Lucy Hirst is outstanding as the character whose trajectory requires the greatest emotional range, conveying the nervy excitement of flirtatious new love every bit of convincingly as the cowed resentment of the battered girlfriend. Katherine Stevens’ performance as confident lawyer Clea is extraordinarily assured. There were subtleties in the use of her voice and expression that are unmatched in actors of ten times her experience.
As a piece it’s ultimately flawed. Scott and Michelle’s relationship is not actually affected by the event, and its domestic violence theme is not clearly linked to the broader violence of it, nor to Clea and Neil’s. But it is nonetheless a powerful and effective piece of theatre in the hands of this remarkable new group, and I urge you to see them.