DramaReviewSouth West

Regeneration – The Bikeshed Theatre, Exeter

Director: Charlie Whitworth
Writers: Corrinne Furness and Charlie Whitworth, with additional text by the Cast
Reviewer: Gareth Roberts

A strange blend of documentary theatre and three odd naturalistic dramas, Regenerationtries to engage with the issue of gentrification and urban development. One storyline is the story of an architect working on Leeds’ tallest building in 2017, a second the story of a man who drifts through every urban development of the 20thCentury and a third the story of a crumbling London family and their dealings with property. Alongside this, we have extracts from speeches and reports as well as monologues and opinions from the cast.

The problem with all of this, is despite its intriguing attempts to engage with themes of urban development it just doesn’t work. The play attempts to be bothopen-minded and to rise towards a righteous anger at the destruction of communities, but cannot properly manage either. Too little information is really present in any of the stories and vignettes for us to be able to make any sense of the situation. The story of the architect in Leeds gives us no information whatsoever about the context of the development, and while the psychodrama with which we are presented is interesting, it ultimately rings hollow. And when the play tries to be angry it cannot manage that either. The righteous indignation directed at a developer in Shoreditch is impossible to get behind as it feels unearned and we have no concern for the situation.

The narrative of the London family seems to have almost no relevance to urban development whatsoever. What we are instead presented with is an interesting, but crucially clichéd, drama about a family in crisis and moving beyond it. While the “life-goes-on” message of the piece is mildly interesting, it seems extraneous to the play. The closest we get to an engagement with the subject is occasional digressive discussions of the changing urban environment, which are too superficial to really give us anything useful. In some ways, the most interesting parts are the documentary theatre, which often relate the mendacity and hypocrisy of corporations and politicians alike. Both seem valid entry routes but the material is too prefaced with apologies to stir up anger and too one-sided for analysis.

The acting is also problematic. While the cast is serviceable, they also feel weirdly mannered. The people who the performers create are sub-Dickensian grotesques, rendered all surface thanks by the frustratingly mannered approach the director seems to have encouraged. What we ultimately see is a play considerably less than the sum of its parts. An interesting experiment with a few lines of thought, but too underdeveloped to be anything more than superficially interesting.

Runs until 5 March 2016 | Image: Contributed

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