Friday, August 05, 2022

The 4 Worst Things I’ve Ever Done – contemporary, intelligent, and absorbing (Brunswick Productions at Accidental Theatre until Saturday 6 August)

Confession might be good for the soul. Nihilism is liberating. Two ideas that are running through 22-year-old Erin’s mind as she sits down to hand over four life-changing and destructive episodes to her granny’s parish priest. If he’d had an inkling about what she might spew out – somewhat akin to a moment in the lead up to her first worst thing when she vomits over a trampoline – he might have had a swig of something to give him courage before hearing about Erin’s self-diagnosed sociopathic tendencies that resulted in the death of a family pet (and oh how the audience laughed in order to get past the extreme pain and discomfort of that moment), throwing herself at a stranger called Keith, letting down a best friend who deserved her support, and not being in a position to intervene when someone even closer did the worst thing.

In different ways, both her Granny and the priest are dismissive of elements of her Catholic (by upbringing) guilt. The former reckons everything – even Erin’s four worst and most disappointing moments – are part of God’s plan. The latter has the wisdom to show Erin the distance between the awfulness of what’s happened and her part in them. Ultimately, the play concludes that the joy of nihilism is less convincing in the cold light of day when you’ve knocked yourself and some of those you loved off the high pedestal upon which they once stood. Maybe confession is good for the soul after all, or at least, good for realising that someone else’s death can end up releasing you from the shame you’re carrying without asking for your own sacrifice.

Ewan McGowan’s script for The 4 Worst Things I’ve Ever Done moves through the four situations like a rollercoaster ride. There’s exhilaration as the audience climb up towards a moment of excruciating and brutally dark comedy and then release, gathering up downhill pace through accidental hedonism, a distressing moment of selfish ignorance before levelling out in a realisation of a lack of humanity before arriving back at where it all started.

Theatrically, that’s a lot of descent. More darkness than light. The early laughs – and there are some very funny lines – become less and less frequent. An explosive moment at the end of the first scene is both totally unexpected and a rather satisfying way to conclude that section of the story. Unfortunately, neither the script nor the direction provides an opportunity to enjoy such a perfect moment again at the next three junctions of the plot. While the ending has pathos aplenty, I’d have selfishly loved a moment of bathos to release some more uplifting giggles before the stage went dark for the final time.

The story arc provides a rich canvass on which Katie Shortt paints Erin. She can quickly flit between being terribly nervous to becoming super confident. At her very lowest, Shortt’s Erin is a broken young woman. With more time to develop the piece, an earlier scene – sitting opposite a silent best friend – could be built into something equally painful and gripping. A member of the audience in the front row is neatly worked into Erin’s world. Shortt has great fun with the central character, does a great impression of posh rugby lad Tom – a stereotype for sure but arguably a fairly realistic one – and could probably take on most of the other prerecorded voices that are currently played into the production.

Accidental Theatre is a perfect space for new theatre companies to hone their craft. Rory Gray creates some beautifully controlled scenes with the available lighting fixtures that heighten the sense of intimacy at key moments. The sound of a microwave is a truly chilling example of the attention to detail in his soundscape.

Northern Ireland theatre needs companies like Brunswick Productions to exist. It’s how new writers, young directors, producers, technicians and actors can hone their skills and test their work, their talents and their ambitions against real audiences. Producing The 4 Worst Things I’ve Ever Done will definitely not appear on the list of shame of any of those involved. It’s contemporary, intelligent, and absorbing. And hopefully, it’ll push the Brunswick team to build on their success and find the energy (and the cash) to come back with more new work in the near future.

The 4 Worst Things I’ve Ever Done finishes its run in Accidental Theatre at 8pm on Saturday 6 August.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review Alan. We are going on Saturday and I look forward to the play even more. Martien