Slush Pile – The Bread and Roses Theatre, London

Reviewer: Adam Stevenson

Writer and Director: L.T Hewitt

Slush Pile takes its audience to a modern publishers, where three unpaid interns trawl through thousands of unsolicited manuscripts in the hope of finding a great work of literature. As they do, they discuss the qualities of great novels and the boulders that come between them and the public.

They are given their task by head of the company, Piscopia (Ariana Shaw). Her choice to play the part as an automaton may be a cheeky hint about the climax of the play, but it feels strange at the beginning – more like the three interns have turned up to work at a haunted mansion than a modern publishing company.

Much of the first half of the play is taken up by a debate between ‘classic’ literature lover Iris (Pauline Marion) and Kai (Nicky Vatvani), who denigrates anything from the past as irrelevant. Between them is Jack (Aaron Devine), who adjudicates between the two, holding a more pragmatic view of picking the best from the past and enjoying the best of now.

This argument is supposedly a casual and ongoing one, with the two carping in the office and the pub afterwards, yet there’s an artificiality to the dialogue, like each is using written talking points, which drag this debate out. This isn’t helped by Marion and Vatvani’s staginess, which is too big for the small space. More successful is Devine, whose little eye rolls and other micro-expressions mean that his character says more even as he says less.

The squabbling threesome is interrupted by the arrival of the ultra-successful actor, Virgil Riga (Marek Lichtenberg). He’s shadowing them for a role and gets into a private conversation with Jack. There’s definite, and amusing, sexual tension between them as we find out Jack’s big secret, he’s an author in the slush pile.

In this world, where characters all have fully formed opinions which they like to share with each other, they exchange opinions about a number of literary issues. Does writing have a social purpose? Is there a canon and who should be in it? How can a writer establish themselves in a market glutted with re-found classics and celebrity authors? These are all fascinating questions but they are discussed rather than dramatised.

Taking place on a cluttered stage and lit by lights that seemed to drift from one colour to another, Slush Pile lacks a sense of theatre in its presentation which emphasises the essay-like nature of the script and leaves the actors exposed. While the issues dealt with are relevant and interesting, they drift from topic to topic without a strong enough narrative or engaging enough characters to bring them to life.

Runs until 24 February 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

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The Reviews Hub - London

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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