The Other Side – Birmingham and Midland Institute, Birmingham

Writer and Director: Frank Bramwell

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Described as A Play For Today told by the Voices of Yesterday this site-specific, script-in-hand event debuted last month at St. Paul’s in the Jewellery Quarter. Theatre Birmingham is a collective of professional and non-professional theatre-makers who create inclusive spoken-word and scripted plays. The ethos and emphasis is to draw in local talent and enthusiasm wherever possible. The prologue, of sorts, for The Other Side, posits esoteric, rhetorical questions. The epilogue leaves us asking many more. Neither the former nor latter are satisfactorily explored or answered.

What if, despite everything, there was an afterlife? What if, somehow, the Dead could speak? It might be deduced that evidence of the former would be proof of the latter. What on earth would they say to us? For those seeking evidence, even comfort in the existence of an afterlife, these voices from the other side might seem an anti-climax. Fate having a laugh.

An ensemble cast combining more experienced professionals with fledgling actors where the ethos is ‘about retaining the spontaneity of the moment, and not over-rehearsing’, in itself raises issues that permeate and impact on tonight’s performance – and not always to the benefit of the audience.

Part One, Todays, finds six characters cast seemingly into a limbo of disconnection. Three of them eventually reach some form of closure following their bathetic death. – that Fate again, always leaving a bad taste in his victims’ mouths, Stupid Deaths with more a punch in the face than a punch-line. The Day In The Life and, presumably, Death, of these disparate characters unravels through fractured, narrative monologues revealing lives of disappointment, perceived robbed opportunity and regrets. Three of them, Adam, Rik and Emily, have their fragmented memories shaken in a bewildered vortex of confusion and barely suppressed indignation –why me?

An alternative, more unsettling tableau occurs with Fabian school teacher, Edward, whose tormented guilt reveals his probable paedophilia and laudanum abuse. His ‘ghost’ suggests one trapped in an Edwardian Groundhog Day of perpetual purgatory. Jason, meanwhile, is a failed and desperate on-the-run gangland minnow who sees the holes and not the net.

Of all the characters, it is perhaps the aloof, nominal narrator, James, master horologist who impresses. The apotheosis of his craft; the ultimate, perpetual watch – that is, until it stops. In Part Two, Yesterdays, here is one character at least, pleading for the intricate internal mechanisms of his flawed time machine of the psyche to be put further under the magnified gaze of the playwright’s loupe. Alas not.

A resolution of sorts emerges: our Everyman/woman terminated trio, with commendably true blue Brummie brio, resign themselves to their fates. To paraphrase – We’ll just have to get used to it I suppose, forever! However, they remain subjects who elicit pity rather than empathy. Everyone has a story to tell, it is just persuading someone to listen to it even with Time on their side – the curse of all Time. Perhaps one of them once shot an albatross in a previous life? What are the chances of that in Cannon Hill Park?

Script-read dependent performances have inherent dramatic limitations. Where the cast is ably literate and articulate, the clue is in learning the lines, not least, because the audience needs to share both the white glare of fear and triumph in the actors’ eyes. Tonight, these limitations are manifestly self-evident – if not actually dysfunctional then suggestively self-indulgent.

Financial support came from the commendable Sir Barry Jackson Trust.

Runs until 12 May 2017 | Image: Chris Barrow

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Self indulgent

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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