Heaven's Gate

Thu 12th – Fri 13th April 2012


Chelsey Stuyt

at 09:59 on 13th Apr 2012



Clutching a slip of white paper (Mr. Ame Falstroem, my character for the evening) and a long thin piece of cardstock (green on one side, red on the other) I took my seat for the Quids In Theatre Company's ‘Heaven's Gate’. The lights came down, the music (an electronic imitation of whale song) came on and the show began.

‘Heaven's Gate’, written by Annie James, is the story of three passengers on board the RMS Titanic. Rufus Channing, played by Chris Begg in a beautiful honey coloured waistcoat, is a wannabe card shark who spends the last of his money on a first class ticket in hopes of taking enough money off the rich passengers to set up a new life for himself in America. Patrick O'Donnell (Jamie Rodden) is a young Irish sailor who stows away on the ship only to meet a beautiful French woman days before the catastrophe. Finally, there is Lily Thomas (Rachel Donald), a widowed nanny whose place in the story seems like more of an afterthought than a plot point.

In general, I found this show to be a bit of a mess. The lead (Chris Begg) was either quietly looking off into the distance or shouting for no apparent reason and the set/costume changes were too long and occurred too often. Though the actors had an impressive command of accents, most notably Jamie Rodden, there was little chemistry between them and many of their reactions seemed forced or contrived. If Lily were really saying goodbye to her young ward, why would she be standing three feet away from him while people around her are screaming?

The plot is itself problematic. The three find themselves at a Paris cafe, waiting to be let in by a snarky waiter (Jamie Begg). But the characters shift from angry disbelief to wistful recollection at the drop of a hat and the aggressive behaviour of the waiter seems at odds with his true character. The script seems a bit heavy handed, particularly at the end, where the behaviour of the two men during the sinking is either berated or praised by the “waiter”. Considering that the audience is meant to vote forum style (hold up your little cards, red for the Englishman, Green for the Irishman), it felt like the show was compelling the audience by painting one choice as the saint, the other a sinner. And what was with the line, 'I'm not British, I'm Irish. What have the British ever done for me?' It was out of place and unnecessary.

Finally, the two gimmicks of the show (the forum theatre and the audience as characters) were underused, particularly the second one. Giving the audience a character has so much potential as a concept, but the Quids In Theatre Company only used it as a novelty that I felt obliged to check at the end of the show. I died, but it didn't mean anything to me because it hadn't been incorporated into the show.

While the idea behind the plot and the forum theatre concept both have a great deal of potential, the lack of chemistry between the actors and the clunky script left me cold. But maybe, like the iceberg lookout on this version of the Titanic, I left my glasses in Southampton.


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