Writers: Nigel Fairs
Director: Louise Jameson
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
We are surrounded by controversy, views we thought were retired at the end of the 20th Century are suddenly part of the political debate again. Of course they never really went away they just didn’t have a voice, and with the rise of social media and key celebrity mouthpieces they have been given a podium once again. But what if you met these people, could you have a sensible debate with them, challenge them, even like them?
Nigel Fairs new play Ebeneezer and Me imagines what would happen if an ordinary man called “Alan” with a job as a teacher met the most controversial woman on Twitter, espousing deeply offensive views about homosexuality and immigration. They seem to get on, they date and begin to fall for each other, but is Beattie as hard-nosed as she pretends, who is the mysterious Joe and what role has “Alan” played in both their lives?
Fairs’ play has an interesting premise and divides into what are two related but tonally separate halves. In many ways, the first is more successful and just when it begins to feel like a neat hour-long one-act piece, a cliffhanger takes the audience into an interval, but a second equally lengthy act flips expectations entirely, becoming something more melodramatic and issue-led.
The first section of the evening sets up several intriguing mysteries as “Alan” waits for the provocative Beattie, seemingly to propose in a restaurant, relating the story of meeting at a book launch and their early relationship as her firm right-wing views are given full reign. “Alan” is also talking to Joe, a young boy who reveals his own story to the audience in monologue which runs through the couple’s tale, about meeting and falling in love with a much older man which leads to their discovery and shame. How these two stories interlink is left intriguingly open.
But then the second half takes the story in quite a wild direction, and while it resolves the various mysteries, it begins to feel the weight of its own worthy crusade to remind us about the individual consequences of intolerance and bullying. As a whole, it is an interesting premise but is very much an actor’s play, written by and starring Fairs who has created plenty of opportunities to show the range and dramatic abilities of his cast.
But the length is a problem, particularly with the circuity of discussions in the verbose second half. It could be 30 or even 45 minutes shorter without losing much of Fairs’ intentions, it’s just a question of what to cut. Losing scenes in the first act would be sensible to retain the overall denouement but that would lose some well-written mystery set-up, while cutting in the second would lessen the melodrama but potentially affect the play’s resolution.
Performances throughout are extremely good however with Abi Harris as Beattie exercising the full range of her skills during the course of the evening. Based on a Katie Hopkins-like figure, her Beattie is vivacious, opinionated, posh, brusque and in love with her own notoriety, but Harris gives hints of a humanity beneath the veneer, showing that family troubles lie beneath her bravado.
Newcomer Sam Peterson is a sweet and innocent Joe coming into a world he’s not ready for. His monologues are engagingly delivered and draw the audience into his story. Fairs meanwhile is an enigma as “Alan”, a man who appears rational and decent on the surface but even early in the play, it’s clear he has lied about his name and his job to get close to Beattie. Fairs gives no hint of what’s to come, keeping the audience guessing about his true nature.
Louise Jameson’s direction keeps things moving fairly swiftly in the first half, and while the second develops some tension, its length means it begins to dissipate before the dramatic conclusion. A bit of trimming and a slightly more subtle approach to the theme could make this an easier experience for the audience because Ebeneezer and Me feels like a good first draft with a strong set of characters and something important to say about how we express our views today.
Runs until 5 February 2017 | Image: Contributed