Writer and director: Chris Leicester
It is rare to reach the end of act one and be unsure of the theme of a play or unable to identify the plot. Unfortunately, 180⁰ Chord, written and directed by Chris Leicester, is a play where this occurs.
The title suggests that the life of Detective Sergeant John Gray (Paul Findlay) has been turned around. A high-performing police officer with an amoral belief the ends justify the means, he falls from grace committing murder in an act of rage. Due to an administrative error, he is incarcerated in a gaol in which many inmates are imprisoned due to his efforts. A riot breaks out during which the inmates hope to hunt down Gray and take revenge. But the desperate Gray is given shelter, and offered the possibility of escaping his pursuers, by Connor (Vincent Fox) whose affable personality may conceal a sinister motive.
There are instances in 180⁰ Chord where dramatic possibilities are ignored. Gray takes an excessive approach to policing (including flushing out a criminal by causing the death of his family) but his downfall is caused by a marital dispute rather than the more ironic reason of being caught going too far pursuing suspects. There is never a moment in the play where Gray suffers self-doubt or questions the actions which led to his downfall resulting in a character with whom it is hard to sympathise.
The influence of Quentin Tarantino is apparent in 180⁰ Chord. As in Reservoir Dogs a victim is bound to a chair and tortured by having his ears sliced off. But Tarantino’s influence shows mainly in the way the characters regularly descend into speeches which are verbose and rarely relevant. At one point Connor delivers a lecture on the motivations of John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of Corn Flakes, which seems out of place in a life-or-death situation.
The lengthy speeches and very slow pacing result in a lack of suspense. Despite Paul Findlay’s efforts to suggest Gray is on the edge of panic and hysteria, the absence of tension makes it hard to believe he is in a life-threatening situation. There is no sense Gray might have stepped into a trap rather than dodged his enemies. By the end of act one the storyline has not clarified to the point where an enticing cliff-hanger is possible, so the conclusion is anti-climactic.
The verbosity blunts the impact of plot developments. Events which shaped the evolution of the characters (Gray survived sexual assault and an abusive father and recession forced Connor into a life of crime) are given but have little emotional impact.
The pedestrian direction results in missed opportunities. Connor’s chatty and cheerful description of how a tray can be transformed into a lethal weapon could, with more imaginative direction, be frightening or darkly comic. The audience ought to be disturbed by the revelation Connor’s amiable disposition hides a savage killer, but the failure to change the tone means such a response is not prompted. Strangely, a coda to the play suggests Connor is seeking redemption although his actions show no sign of repentance or acknowledgement of guilt.
A wordy script and sluggish direction make for a disappointing evening.
2nd February 2024 and touring