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7th Jul, 2022

REVIEW: Each Slow Dusk

Malvern Editorial 8th Nov, 2014 Updated: 20th Oct, 2016

Each Slow Dusk by Rory Mullarke and performed by Pentabus Theatre Company

Reviewed by Lee Farley at The Hive, Worcester.

This touring production of Rory Mullarkey’s First World War tale is an enigma; an intriguing, but flawed attempt to answer the question of how to reflect our inability to react to war and its horrors.

The play, to borrow a football metaphor from the text, is definitely one of two halves. The first half has three young men dressed in army fatigues telling us, in the past tense, about an unnamed character who died in the trenches. The second half is a presentation, with slides, by another unnamed character who has visited the war memorials in northern France.

This is theatre with many of its vital components removed. No action, no relationships, no character interaction. Everything is addressed directly to the audience in the past tense. It made me think about what theatre is, what are the absolutely essential requirements? What stops this production from being storytelling rather than theatre? Whatever the answers, the resulting performance lacks dynamism and fails to engage on an emotional level.

The production is attempting, by avoiding naturalism and distancing us from the story, to reflect the distance we feel from the events of 1914-18. Repetition is used in the text to emphasise similarities between the two sections of the play and the final words “Where are we now?” act as a kind of rallying cry to us all – how are we responding to war? Why are we allowing ourselves to repeat the killing and devastation?

It’s a fascinating theatrical experiment that just doesn’t quite pay off. The intention is to provoke consideration of the ideas, but I found myself too aware of the writer and the director’s tactics. The repetition, the structure, the low-key storytelling and the lack of action or character interaction are so alienating they form a barrier between the narrative and the audience. This barrier is too impenetrable and the production could have found a different way into the story and the ideas, a way which might have engaged emotionally and provided a more visceral human connection.

Pentabus make good use of the Hive studio – a simply defined space with soft lighting, a minimalist ambient soundscape and a few props. The actors follow the party line which is subtle and understated, although I would challenge the decision to make direct eye contact with the audience in the first half. I also found Joanna Bacon’s character confusing; I kept wondering who she was and why she was delivering this semi-lecture to us? One of too many questions left unanswered by this interesting but unsuccessful production.

 

 

 

 

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