Rescue Me

Mon 16th – Thu 26th January 2012

reviews

Olivia Baker

at 19:08 on 18th Jan 2012

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As a theatre-goer whose experience of plays extended until recently to those that I had been invited to see, my first impression on entering the Bierkeller Theatre was one of pride at the alternative person I had become. The setting was unexpected, yet with a little entrepreneurship, a theatre had been created and an atmosphere of casual excitement greeted me. Dimmed lights with drapes hanging around both the audience and the stage created an atmosphere of intimacy for the surroundings that would be continued into the play. With a plot line that encompassed many themes and included well-defined characters, the evening was enjoyable, although in some ways the production lacked notability.

The set allowed for the use of props (rather than merely their presence), giving a sense of naturalism to the play, while also immediately giving a defined atmosphere to the scenes. Although there was potential for obstruction from this developed set arrangement, the cast navigated their way around seamlessly and utilised their surroundings to further the action they were conveying. Costume was also used well to benefit the conveyance of both character and events that were not illustrated on the stage.

The play was written and directed by Jared Morgan, who evidently conveyed with vision his ideas about character to his cast, through his writing and instruction, as they were portrayed well. There were some very insightful lines that he must be congratulated for, which caused introspection on the occurrences that make us who we are, or what we think we can be. Fundamentally, this play is about character, and they were contrasting, developing well with the story. The all-Bristol, all-woman cast interacted well with one another and had a strong sense of their characters, with good physicality to represent them. The plot picked up with rapidity in the second half and the contrast to the first half made this more poignant. However, this did mean the first half lacked some content. The characters told their stories and explained indirectly their situation: that they were there for safety from people who had hurt them in varying ways. While this permitted growth, some lines seemed forced - both in vocal delivery and in the context of women who should be used to living together. Unfortunately, it broke the sense of reality playing in front of me. This said, by the second half, I was smiling fondly at the lines that illustrated the characters I knew and understood.

Particular credit should go to Michala Meadows, who delivered a well-timed performance, with varying vocal tone and quality to her lines. A mention too should go to the physical acting of Natasha Starkey, who changed entirely when taking on two separate roles. The entire cast gave credible performances, especially in the second half, making up for any faults that may have been present within the first half and giving a powerful ending impression. On that theme I would not feel I had analysed the play properly without mentioning the fairly ambiguous ending: a scream and commotion from offstage left the audience shifting with uncertainty, especially as it was difficult to tell if this was one of happiness or pain. Perhaps this was purposeful - the ending left a lot of unresolved issues, leaving the audience to make up their minds about their judgement of the characters they had been getting to know that evening, or what they thought those characters were capable of doing. And perhaps that what the play was about after all.

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Lucy Dreznin

at 19:27 on 18th Jan 2012

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Once sat down in the black-box-like theatre space at the Bierkeller Theatre, an informal space converted from a beer bar, I pick up the programme which reads, 'Rescue Me: A story of hope'. Immediately what comes to mind is a melodramatic and intimate drama between six women, all with different stories to tell and personalities to shine, with some light comedy to ease the tension every now and again. This production is exactly that.

Faroutman Theatre, a Bristol-based company, have created a piece centred around six women in a refuge, with the aim of exposing the local Bristol talent and, according to the programme, 'often under-presented weath of female acting talent’. They have children and are seeking a place of recluse and protection as they come to term with their failed, troublesome and violent marriages. 'We were just unlucky', says Jacqueline Coombs, who plays a slightly older-looking middle-aged woman, Joyce, who comes across as having experimented with the eccentric side of life and as the mother figure of the refuge. She attempts to console the 19 year old mother of one Denise, played by Jasmine Smart, with clichéd one-liners: 'If you want to improve, you can'; 'Thick to me is someone who doesn't want to learn. You're not that, are you, Denise?' It's not that Denise's story isn't touching. On the contrary, Smart plays the part with a subtle humility as she paints her emotional canvas, recounting how her stepfather raped her and her confidence in her Music teacher led her to marry him at age 16. However, the story isn't anything the audience wouldn't have heard before; in theatre, in newspapers, the story is there if you want to read it. So, instead of being an invigorating dialogue between these two women, it falls flat.

The plot does take an unexpectedly wild turn in the second act, turning the production from weak to strong, as the focus shifts from the women to their children. (SPOILER ALERT!) Two new arrivals, Angela and Daphne, pose as equally distraught and abused wives, when they are actually working in partnership to kidnap the children. As the mothers wait in anguish for news of their beloved babies, it is suggested by the policewoman that the two women are traffickers. The audience are reminded of the cruel reality the world can sometimes present and this is cleverly woven into the women's lives by the playwright and director, Jared Morgan. Natasha Starkey gives a poignant performance as the detached policewoman, showing little obvious compassion for the mothers' ordeal and as Daphne, the posh stuck-up imposter-turned-trafficker. Having the same actress play two juxtaposing roles is perhaps to imply that, often, things aren't what they seem.

Sadly, this is one out of only two ingenious qualities in this production. The other character of intrigue, a moody overly negative and temperamental middle-aged woman named Muriel, interpreted by Madeleine Havell, is the key element in completing the purpose of this production. Although surprisingly open about her unsettling relationship with her mother, the 'serial dumper' and ’professional slut', she does not exaggerate her behaviour and wears her thick skin in a way which can only make any spectator pleasantly frustrated. Havell's inappropriate and often crude comments towards her fellow 'family' make the light, and I mean very light comedy, between Coombs and Smart slightly more bearable. Otherwise, with every other swear word, the spectators begin to grow weary and tend to lose focus.

'Rescue Me' is not a bad production, but nor is it a good one. It is written and staged to induce sympathy for those who have been through many rough ordeals, some at a disturbingly early point in their lives, and to inspire good for the future. Yet one cannot help but feel disappointed at the story's abrupt end. Just when it had the potential to evolve and unravel in a way that would push the play's controversial themes forward, namely child sex trafficking, it stops. Spectators exit and are left to ponder over the recurring words of 'forgiveness', 'guilt' and 'intelligence' that these women repeat over and over again. It is a shame the real plot only started twenty minutes before the end; with more vigour, the show would have been an even greater source of intrigue. But instead it was only “fine”.

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