There was an ominous sound of heavy breathing as I entered the room to watch “The New Electric Ballroom”. This pervading sense of unease permeated what was ultimately a very successful example of some very bizarre theatre.
The play follows the story of three sisters trapped in a sleepy Irish seaside town, constantly reliving the night that the two eldest had their hearts broken by their teenage idol, The Rolle Royle, at The New Electric Ballroom. Their only visitor is a lonely fisherman who seeks the companionship of the younger sister, who desperately wishes to break free.
“The New Electric Ballroom” opens with a deluge of words, only a few of which are initially fully discernable but which are gradually revealed as the play progresses. The shock value is heightened as the statuesque Breda (Ellie Hafner), who had delivered this linguistic torrent, turns around with a face smeared in lipstick, looking like a terrifying clown. Between Hafner and Isabella Hammad (in the role of Ada) exist many beautifully crafted silences that, far from creating a lull, give energy to the piece. Hammad’s strength definitely lies in her stillness; what was behind the eyes tells more than any movement can.
Ollie Mann brings a lovely innocence to his role as outsider Patsy, although his tendency to deliver lines directly outwards occasionally impacts upon the intensity of his dialogues with the sisters. Irish accents are, for the most part, very convincing, and don’t fall into the trap of becoming distracting.
In a sea of strong performances, the stand-out is undoubtedly Louisa Holloway as the truly heartbreaking Clara. Her performance is at times beautifully childlike; whilst reminiscing about her younger days she seems very much the young girl naughtily adorned in her mother’s lipstick.
She can, however, shift from this at a moment’s notice to create a character both delightfully comic and intensely moving. Her higher vocal placement also works very well against the alto of her sisters.
The Burton Taylor Studio is a good theatre to enhance the claustrophobic air that creates much of the play’s atmosphere.
Director Phoebe Eclaire-Powell has done a great job with a challenging play She has, first and foremost, cast it perfectly, but has also succeeded in using technical effects which enhance and don’t distract, and has choreographed some compelling set pieces.
In her Director’s Statement she says that this is a play of “being forced to see the dark underbelly of humanity whilst being fed icing sugar.” There is certainly a dark underbelly in the play, with the icing not so much fed to you as thrown in your face. Delicious.