Writers and Directors: Andrew Quick &Pete Brooks
Video Design: Simon Wainwright &Andrew Crofts
Music: Jeremy Peyton Jones
Reviewer: S. E. Webster
Reading the pre-show blurb to The Zero Hour on the West Yorkshire Playhouse website, one would not be ridiculed for anticipating a World War II version of Sliding Doors. The plot of the 1998 film, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, pivots on one moment when a young city-worker does or does not catch her tube home from work. The film thus goes on to simultaneously portray the two different lives that result from this single action. It is unfortunate for the theatre company Imitating the Dog that their production and new writing, The Zero Hour, fails to successfully execute this concept of multiple scenario outcomes, which Sliding Doors handles so brilliantly. The latter may only be a mere chick flick, but grand ideas of World War II and transpiring different worlds, caused by a minor alteration of events are entirely lost on an audience when they are presented in such a muddled and confused fashion.
The action is interspersed with the filming by the Chinese team of the war drama, with a strange documentary-style explanation of a train, which is undoubtedly a sci-fi future fantasy world. The correlation between the two is certainly puzzling for anyone in the audience not otherwise familiar with the previous work of Imitating the Dog. The use of lighting is good, although some scenes are too short and sudden, impacting upon the overall coherency of the plot. Subtitles used to indicate the differing dates and times disappear too fast to allow the audience time to chronologically place the on-stage activity, which itself is crucial to understanding the three supposed different versions of the war and plot. Costume change is also too limited, so that audience members can hardly tell the difference between Matt Prendergast’s character, Lev, as a soldier working for the Russians or as an official within the German Reich. Furthermore, while I am fortunate enough to understand and distinguish between the Russian and German language, I need hardly say that many people in the audience would not be able to, and this compounded by the limited costume change and speedy subtitle and scene changes, leaves an audience utterly confused by the presence of certain characters on stage and their interaction with one another. Indeed it is easy to question whether there really is a clear plot at all.
The production deserves some credit in terms of its collaboration between cinema and theatre. Yet, it seems lazy to use fake, digitally created backdrops for the ‘film’, and while it is fine to dramatize the 1940s, the visual technology should be firmly placed in the 21st century. At times, the visuals are so poor, that the actors appear to be trapped in an old Playstation game, which in turn creates comic moments that are clearly unintended for otherwise such serious material. Filming in real, natural landscapes and sets would have completely rectified this problem and could have been displayed on the screens in the same way as the poor graphics, with which the audience were forced to contend with.
The music, however, composed by Jeremy Peyton Jones, is moving and well-placed. It is only a shame that other sound effects, such as the final sound of the train, were far too loud for such a small theatre space as The Courtyard, thus overwhelming the audience.
Drama is an organic form of art, which often benefits from revision and change, and one can only hope that this raw, promising work returns to the stage, reformed and revitalized.