Leave a Message – VAULT Festival, London

Writers: James Mitchell and Ed Coleman

Director: Jessica Rose McVay

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Week 5 at the VAULT Festival, and it seems to be busier than ever down in the tunnels under Waterloo station. Opening proceedings this week is Leave a Message, a thoughtful play about alcoholism, but despite some strong performances it does seem slightly too conventional for a fringe theatre festival.

Ed Coleman plays Ed, a man who has come to clear out his father’s house; his father has lost the battle with the bottle. Ed has brought along his friend Sarah, as there’s a lot of work to be done. In what must be the most elaborate set at The VAULT Festival, cans, bottles and papers are strewn all over his father’s living room, an impressive design by Sarah Mercade. Hidden in the detritus is an old-fashioned answering machine, and it’s flashing with messages.

Soon all kind of secrets unravel out of the answering machine as Ed tries to discover more about the father he never really knew. Based on Coleman’s life, this occasionally moving play ponders whether the sins of the father are conferred on the son. With the help of a sex-worker, Ed finds out that perhaps he and his dad are quite similar after all.

Gabrielle Fernie plays Sarah, and most of the comedy comes from her goofiness, but unfortunately, some of her lines don’t quite hit the mark. Hayley-Marie Axe tries her hardest with sex-worker Linda, but we’ve seen this ‘salt of the earth’ stereotype too many times before, right down to the ladder in her stockings. It’s left to Coleman to carry the more serious parts of the play, and he does this best when he’s alone on stage.

Like its title suggests, the play has an important message to relay, but overall this production needs a little more verve and imagination. Leave a Messageis a little slow at times, but its understated end is beautifully played despite the dangers of all the slippery sheets of paper littering the stage. The ambiguous ending works because it is so believable, and, in its own way, relatively simple. It would be easy to manipulate the audience to tears, but director Jessica Rose McVay holds back here, and it works to her advantage.

Runs until 24 February 2019 | Image: Contributed

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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