Closer Each Day

Tue 31st January – Tue 10th April 2012

reviews

Jessica Reid

at 23:02 on 25th Oct 2011

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The concept behind ‘Closer Each Day’ is extremely original. Every other Tuesday, spectators at The Wardrobe Theatre can see a brand new episode of the soap as it is created in front of their eyes. The show begins with an introduction to the characters and the first proper scene links in with the end of the previous episode. There is a wide range of performers - young girls to middle aged men - and many of the characters are in families, so aesthetically it really is a little like Eastenders. Though it is a good idea and there are some great moments, I felt it needed some work.

‘Closer Each Day’ was amusing and light-hearted. There was a real variety to the humour – from witty to slapstick to pure melodrama. The actors produced some brilliantly witty characterisations through their careful wording: Barry (Chris Bianchi) purposefully mistaking the word ‘abdicating’ for ‘abduction’; Little Jimmy’s (James Rushbrooke) dreamy ideas for his marriage proposal ending in an earnest, “Unless she doesn’t want it, cos then it’s rape”; the numerous innuendos regarding the character Big Dick. The voiceovers, lead by a narrator with the power to end a moment and alter the plot, were dry and sardonic but should have been more challenging for the actors. Often they were introducing the inevitable whereas they could have been used to create more unusual situations. Having a musician present at the side of the stage underscoring every dramatic moment was excellent and helped to make everything flow naturally.

One of the best moments was at the wedding of Milly and Reg. It was really engaging because of all the underlying and frequently farcical tensions (Milly expecting to die, Reg probably gay, his usurped Best Man acting as the priest, the Johnston gangsters wanting to rob the bride…). When Little Jimmy arrives, hoping to punish Reg for stealing his proposal and his girlfriend, he is shocked by the unwelcome sight of his brother, Big Dick. They start fighting and there is mayhem. It was completely ludicrous and over-the-top. The characters here were at their most believable and it was hilarious.

One of the issues with the show is that the actors vary in their ability. The three Johnsons (Bianchi, Rushbrooke and John Lomas) were brilliant. They were consistently focussed and quick-witted yet they never lost sight of their characters. Magdalene, a very perky but neurotic American scientist, was also a convincing role. Some of the other performers seemed rather inexperienced or nervous. I really disliked how when the actors were not performing, they stood and watched the show completely out of character. It was unprofessional - as was the regular corpsing on stage – and very distracting, reducing the potential intensity of the experience. Yet, there was a strong sense of camaraderie which was quite endearing.

I really love the idea behind the show and spent a pleasant hour watching it. I would have liked to have seen a wider range of emotions, particularly a bit of tragedy, as it would have made it more enthralling. With greater focus and more practice, this could become really great.

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Imogen Lees

at 09:45 on 26th Oct 2011

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In adapting a soap opera for theatre with an exclusively improvised and episodic production, Closer Each Day offers an innovative comment on the invariably open-ended plot lines of modern drama serials. However, its deliberate lack of plot resolution and satisfying endings meant the play felt uncoordinated and lacking in direction.

Guiding the performance throughout was a directorial ‘voice over’ which began, ended and sometimes interrupted each scene with a brief instruction for and about the characters. It was therefore sometimes frustrating when the plot rapidly veered away from the ‘aim’ of the scene which was fixed at the start. For example, we were usefully informed that Reg (Andy Kelly) had decided to visit the doctor but his honest intentions were soon waylaid by an uncomfortable digression in which two other characters attempted to remove his recently discovered testicular growth. This tendency to divulge into exaggerated innuendo or crudeness was met with some reluctance from the audience, particularly when it became too repetitive.

The background music, played by a cellist at the side of the stage, also helped add structure and cohesion to the plot. It had the successful comic effect of exaggerating any emphatic emotion shown by the characters: PC Malcolm’s (Adam Blake) solitary silent drink at the pub was humorously over-emphasised by the melancholy tune accompanying his loneliness. However, there were dialogues which could have been more convincing if the cast had allowed the cellist to completely determine the mood of the scene with the appropriate music.

As comically advertised at the start of the show, Closer Each Day has its own blog (closereachdaysoap.blogspot.com) which provides helpful synopses for past episodes and brief character profiles for its cast. Although prior knowledge of the series so far is unnecessary for enjoying the play, it is a shame the webpage is not compulsory viewing for all audience members. It establishes an understanding of the production as a whole and thus gives the play itself more structural sense.

Using improvisation to perform a soap opera on stage is the perfect medium for depicting the trivial and mundane realism of everyday conversations which the soap opera often seeks to replicate. The best scenes, therefore, were those in which the dialogue was flowing and authentic and therefore entertaining as you marvelled at the skill of the actor. Dr Ferguson (Malcolm Hamilton) was particularly impressive in this respect and his passionate conversations with the scientist (Meghan Leslie) set a fast and exciting pace of narrative. Nevertheless, this ‘authenticity’ clashed with the frequent elements of the absurd; for example the ridiculous emphasis on specific items such as the key fob. This would have been a light-hearted and amusing triviality had there been some overall direction to the story. I found it impossible to get rid of my expectation that everything would come together at the end, and therefore I found it unsatisfying that it was separated into episodic instalments.

The most entertaining moments were when the play had a consciousness of itself as an improvised and spontaneous performance. Continuity mistakes made by the actors - for example a character complaining of injuries he received in a car crash that was meant to have happened 48 hours previously - were highly comical, and the atmosphere suddenly became more relaxed and light-hearted. At these moments it was clear there was no pretence that this was meant to be a serious play and both actor and audience were aware of its excusable shortcomings.

Improvisation is most successful when it has a purpose, and ultimately this is was what the play missing most. The individual talent of the actors should in no way be overlooked, but it was lost in the plot-less confusion of the multiple storylines. The episodic element of the production provided an interesting reflection of the nature of soap operas and the fact they have no definitive ‘end’, but it meant Closer Each Day was lacking in a crucial sense of purpose.

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