Connect Four

Mon 6th – Thu 9th May 2013

reviews

Annie Flynn

at 10:00 on 7th May 2013

0agrees

4disagrees

Royal Court writer Amy Bethan Evans’ Connect Four, a story about memory, truth and the family bonds required to keep it alive, is only the debut production of her Makeshift Wings theatre group, "aimed at aspiring and established theatre professionals to keep them doing theatre’’. We may therefore be able to forgive this first offering, combining seasoned actors such as Danann McAleer (Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, Breakout Theatre Company) with a number of UWE drama graduates currently embarking upon varied careers, for the rather hit-and-miss start that it provides for what will surely become an exciting new branch of Bristol theatre.

Whilst individually the cast members were convincing in their portrayal of the intense emotions required by the script and drew appreciative laughs from the audience in the more darkly comedic moments of the play, the chemistry between the characters, vital for action which relied so much upon the intricacies and complications of familial relationships, was at times lost. This may be attributed to the actors' delivery which was often hasty and even stumbling; lines were muddled, retracted and repeated at an alarming rate. Whilst it must be said that one possible reason for this is the difficulty of maintaining the Northern Irish accent necessary for four of the six roles (a challenge that was otherwise carried off convincingly enough to prompt me to check my programme in order to determine which of the actors were actually Irish) the effect was still extremely distracting and frustrating. The decision to direct much of the dialogue out into the audience, the actor constantly fixing his gaze at an abstract point above our heads, did not allow much opportunity for turning to address one’s fellow actor. This was presumably to invest the speeches with the requisite amount of gravitas in keeping with the existentialism of the subject matter but it also contributed to a sense of detachment between the cast members that marred the believability of the relationships.

The script itself benefitted from the imaginative powers of Bethan Evans, it’s other-worldly elements juxtaposing with the stark realism of the young couple’s grim living environment and memories of the Irish troubles which creates a unique environment where life at its most ‘real’ collides with the afterlife to dramatic effect. However, the playwright falls prey at times to a number of clichés, namely the characterisation of Mike Skeates’ young husband as a well-meaning but insensitive male who fails to clock his new wife's (the convincing Rebecca Jolliffe) suspicious morning sickness. The clumsy rendering of the characters’ debates over feminism and gender definitions which failed to shed any new light on their subjects was another aspect which could have been improved.

On the whole, cultural context was woven into the story well with references to Gaelic stories read to Ciaran as a child used to evoke his conscious desire to distance himself from his birth country and subsequently his childhood and his relationship with his father.

Ultimately, the production's tackling of a difficult subject matter was largely flawed but occasional moments of stellar acting, (Kate Williams as The Girl did justice to the climactic speeches required of her towards the play’s end) and the unusual and thought-provoking elements which did shine through the flawed script were sufficient to give rise to hope that Makeshift Wings is an exciting prospect for future Bristol dramatics.

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Comments

Jean Williams; 11th May 2013; 17:31:44

I disagree with you on the criticism of the writer... I found it a wonderfully linear piece (yep, even with all of those the flashbacks), that gave great scope on the two decades in which it was set. Had witticisms in abundance too, complementing the piece when it explored it's darker issues. More importantly, it knew what it wanted to say.

Also in disagreement, I feel the company gelled wonderfully together, myself. Particularly taking into account the quantity of lines they had, in a play running at nearly 3 hours. There were highly realistic performances, executed with maturity and vigour, and an apparent mutual respect. We thoroughly enjoyed it! A very moving piece of theatre, with imaginative concepts that were bravely executed. More from Makeshift Wings, please!

Thomas Chijioke; 11th May 2013; 19:27:15

I need to disagree, and the only way I can think of doing that is here, in this place. I know that I don't know everything about the theatre, and in my short experience of film, and theatre, and written and performed narrative I know that I do not know everything, but as a film graduate, and one who enjoys many forms of storytelling I'd like to just say that - this is not a bad review. I've disagreed with it on the grounds that it's worded quite clumsily (irononically), but I thought the critique inherent in it was quite stable.

The thing is that every criticism in the review seems to me to be... a good thing. To me there was MEANT to be a "sense of detachment" between the characters, because they all detached themselves, in one way of another, from what was happening, in order to deal with it.

I think that "Connect Four" managed to condense massive themes into a lovely succinct narrative, and the non-linear narrative was a lovely technique that kept interest and evoked curiosity. Something not easy to pull off on stage. The cast should be proud, the director should be proud, and the writer should over the moon. I think this review was clumsy, but a good one. I have disagreed with the way it was written, and not the evident praise it portratys.

B Hine; 14th May 2013; 15:14:17

While some criticisms in this review are justified, I strongly disagree with the reviewer's assertion that the writer 'fell prey to a number of cliches.' I found the writing to be utterly original and compelling throughout. The character of Ciaren was in no way an insensitive male- quite the opposite. The monologue explaining how the character had no choice but to hide his feelings to deal with the death of his brother (delivered beautifully by Mike Skeates) was among the highlights of the play, revealing a depth of character apparently missed by this critic.

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