The Barron’s got a new seating rack and it’s beautiful.
We’re all back to another semester and another packed Barron season but, as in Shrek 2, ’now…it’s sexy!’.
…I had to get that off my chest.
Opening this year’s season was writer/filmmaker/musician James Montgomery’s debut play Spark, a bold piece of new writing exploring trauma, artistic production, mental illness, suicide, and Tinder dates.
At the centre of the piece were some stellar performances from some seasoned Mermaids veterans – Stacie Bradly’s drifting, waifish Claire really delivered on the character’s mystery, and Phoebe Soulon showed us all how it’s done with an understated and devastatingly human portrayal of Sally. Her training really showed its teeth in her disciplined physicality – delicate gestures built the character, and at one point provided a perfectly judged moment of levity in a deeply sad scene, when Soulon slid unexpectedly down the theatre wall into a seated position.
The show also saw an exciting debut from Noemie Jouas whose dejected and emotionally distant Dani, though a little off-key at times, showed huge potential – especially in the dynamic established with Soulon.
Aesthetically, the production had a lot to give – a richly dressed set peppered with artwork kept things consistent with the show’s beautiful publicity designs, and though it was let down by costuming, the soft furnishings took some of the coldness out of a black box that can really swallow up intimate writing.
Tech from Olli Gilford felt a bit rushed. Timings were a bit haphazard, everything had a brightness that was stark against the intimacy of the piece, and the top-down wash on stage left was both unnecessary and a bit of an eyesore. Admittedly, direction was unhelpful here – the set design and blocking choices meant long and unwieldy blackouts between scenes in which very minimal set changes seemed to occur – a little reworking could have made the piece so much more fluid.
Though a little unclear at times, Montgomery’s script was deeply personal, and the cast (and indeed crew) dynamic made clear that this was a passion project. Though there were some thorny moments with the direction which compromised clarity, the cast stayed true to the emotional heart of the play, and with a little more support this could really have been a great debut – I can’t wait to see what Montgomery brings to the table with his next project (whatever form that might take).
New seating rack, new writing, same student theatre pitfalls: some great performances of an ambitious play, let down by lack of support with script development and tech.