Some Big Issues with Realism: Vagrant at the BT Studio

Vagrant tries to raise some important issues concerning the streets of Oxford – the collision of poverty and privilege. However, it fails to hit the mark that it aims at in trying to raise these issues, as the play descends into a rather unrealistic melodrama.  Some very good performances do shine through shine through but these instances are infrequent.

The presence of rather unrealistic plot elements in the script threatens the integrity of the play. In conjunction with Lara’s painfully hyperbolic language, there is the continuous, unnecessary urge to heighten the dramatic tension by adding more and more unfortunate details about Lara’s past; credible realism is lost by adding almost every possible plot twist known to soap-opera, in the gradual narration of her story and family background.

The intriguing naivety of Lara (played by Eliza Easton) initially holds the audience’s attention. However, as the play develops, her character becomes painfully difficult for the audience to connect with.  In fact, the character to whom the audience is much more able to empathise is the drug addicted, homeless Ivan (Barnaby Fishwick).  Fishwick proves to be an excellent casting choice and manages to strike the balance perfectly between his character’s terrifying brutality and immense vulnerability.

The backstory of the two homeless characters, Ivan and Tracy (Zoe Bullock) is told very creatively; through a pre-recorded monologue to which they add a set of silent movements, helping us visualize how they came to be in such  a desperate state.

The dramatic depth of these audio monologues grates with the interaction between the two sisters. Bridget Dru plays Lara’s sister, Isobella, who sees her sibling embark on a distressing and self-harming crusade to naively “atone for the amorality of the city” and aptly conveys the painful mix of emotions written into the text.  She tries to remind Lara that it is not the balls, dinners and colleges that are the root of the problem, but the suffering on the streets and lack of support for the homeless.  Seeing as Lara, unfortunately, edges dangerously close to being received as insincere, perhaps Isobella should have been given more space to clarify her views.

Vagrant has the potential to be a powerful play, but the excessive melodrama renders the play painfully unrealistic in depicting a very real and pressing problem.

** (2 Stars)

PHOTO/Alex Darby