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Late Night Staring at High-Res Pixels – Finborough Theatre

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Writer: Athena Stevens

Director: Lily McLeish

Hands up if you’ve ever sent a nude photo. Careless fun, intimate and a solidifying sign of trust in our partners or potential lovers. But what happens when someone violates consent and shows this photo to their best-friend – harmless fun, right? When A is shown a topless photo of 1 by her best friend, at first, she is unsure of how to react. Gradually as the days play out and relationships fray, the two women begin to question their relationship with the man who shared the image, but also with the tactics men use to maintain control.

A series of asides released each day throughout February, Late Night Staring at High-Res Pixels asks a rather poignant and damning question of how much does admiration of a person confer control of another.

Gradually a reversal of fates unfolds as the two women begin to parallel the other’s experiences as their stances of control and oppression and self-empowerment switch. Where once there was a reliance on others to fuel self-esteem, doubt emerges; where confidence was Queen, concerns surrounding consent and abuse arise. As the early episodes unfold, Athena Stevens’ Late Night Staring at High-Res Pixels skirts as an episodic romantic-comedy but meticulously carves an unravelling narrative with dark twists, exploring issues of age, power and the complicity of harming others.

Much has been forgiven over the past year regarding productions filmed at home with limited locations and space. Credence is to be handed to Lily McLeish’s direction and Anna Reid’s design work – along with the performers’ ability to manipulate angles and filming locations to broaden scale. Going beyond a mere change-up, the use of stair bannisters as bars, toilets and windows all plays into Antony Doran’s lighting to reinforce feelings of isolation, confinement, or relief.

Though the variations of locale within the pair’s homes make for nice shake-ups throughout twenty-eight episodes, it causes occasional auditory issues if Stevens or Evelyn Lockley are far from the camera and removes the audience’s ability to notice facial expression.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Stevens’ script is how the only male character, never seen or physically present, is stripped of agency without demoralising the two leads. Too often stories of oppression or relationships have a centring around the man (for better or worse), but Late Nights hones focus on the dawning realisation of the catastrophic damage silence plays in oppression and abuse. It looks at the day-to-day events from the eyes of our two leads, these two women, who recognise where harm has been caused, not by malice, but by inaction.

Well demonstrated is Lockley’s performance as 1, where the dawning realisation of how much conditioning is deployed on women as a form of control. The evolving performance is a pinnacle for the production, providing a seamless and natural transition. But thankfully, without losing interest or character, 1 is still engaging, open and emotional.

The same is true for A, who, if anything, unravels as the platonic relationship she shares with her male friend deteriorates. Stevens has thus far kept such tight control of her performance that as the edges begin to fray, to see her lose this control and brandish emotion is a treat in itself. Her humour is a canny weapon, with some of the production’s most effective deliveries nipping under the commentary to provide a swift knock of comedy.

Tackling diverse subjects with little concern for sugar-coating, Steven’s Late Night speaks to generations of women who followed a doctrine of perceptions and patriarchal expectations of relationships, and just how far admiration can lead to complacent oppression. Told over a month, this packs years’ worth of thoughts, concerns and harm into a series of aside episodes, each well-constructed and performed with understanding, grace, and humour.

Available here until 1 April 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Dark Twists

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