Eighters gonna love: Eight at the Burton Taylor pt. 1

Entertainment
David Shields as 'Miles' | Photo/Toby Mather
David Shields as ‘Miles’ | Photo/Toby Mather

“Put yourself in my shoes” is the challenge posed by this production of Ella Hickson’s Eight. Beneath cascades of translucent plastic, eight pairs of shoes form the stage’s only adornment, and indeed the cast slip into their roles as comfortably as they would into a pair of well-worn slippers. In this production by Rough-Hewn and Screw the Looking Glass, ably directed by Jessica Lazar and Tommo Fowler, the eight monologues of the play are split into a Tuesday/Wednesday (the subject of this review) and a Thursday/Friday foursome, followed by a Saturday performance of four ‘favourites’, as voted for by previous audiences. You might just see me at each one.

Alice Porter as 'Millie' | Photo/Toby Mather
Alice Porter as ‘Millie’ | Photo/Toby Mather

The actors use the intimacy of the Burton Taylor to impressive effect, holding the gaze of every member of the audience in performances which are generous rather than introspective or self-indulgent. The characterization is pitch-perfect in its subtlety. Four distinct and rounded characters emerge, their diverse situations linked by thematic echoes: the dangers of freedom, and the difficulty of negotiating and renegotiating your place in a world that is constantly evolving and redefining ‘normal’.

David Shields as Miles, the American suit and survivor of the 7/7 bombings, opens the play with a masterful portrayal of self-doubt and self-hatred. From braggadocio to vulnerability, from manic excitement to angry defiance, his is a versatile and commanding performance. His ‘corporate’ gestures – pointing fingers, palms spread open – recall a sales pitch, as he seeks validation of his extreme behaviour following his traumatic experience of life’s contingency.

Millie Chapman as 'Mona' | Photo/Toby Mather
Millie Chapman as ‘Mona’ | Photo/Toby Mather

He is followed by Millie (Alice Porter), the jolly-hockey-sticks purveyor of ‘marital supplements’, with her own variation on the Brownie code. The last bastion of Betjeman-esque Englishness, Millie provides her ‘boys’ with sexual satisfaction and maternal devotion. Alice Porter certainly captures the refined sauciness of this not-quite ‘yummy mummy’, and portrays profound sadness as the world to which Millie belong more fully sinks beneath the waves of modernity. Her performance perhaps lacks the bite of the others, coming a little closer to caricature, but nevertheless preserving just the right balance – it’s heartening to see that the Carry On school of double entendre is alive and well.

Millie Chapman provides a compelling portrait of Mona, a girl in search of rules who finds them in a highly ambiguous churchyard encounter. When the line between reality and delusion is as blurred as in this story, total commitment is required, and Chapman is utterly convincing. Her fragility, her angular and contorted postures, erratic pace of delivery and real tears are testimony to a real engagement with this shadowy character.

Christopher Adams as 'Andre' | Photo/Toby Mather
Christopher Adams as ‘Andre’ | Photo/Toby Mather

As André, the art gallery owner who discovers his own boyfriend’s suicide, Christopher Adams is truly impressive. Fizzing with energy, he displays vulnerability, anger, cattiness, wit, flamboyance, and beneath it all sincere grief and a sense of missed opportunities – he has a natural and absolute command of the stage, and a gift for comedy as well as for portraying real emotion.

This is an intelligent, deeply compassionate play with a highly sophisticated cast. Altogether, it makes for a stunning performance.

 

***** (5 Stars)

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