The Hand-Me-Down People, C nova

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Originally written for Fest Magazine.

There’s something suspiciously familiar about New Theatre’s tale of growing old and awaiting the inevitable. On a dusty shelf in a children’s playroom, a collection of discarded figurines immerse themselves in memories and stories, gloomily waiting for the day when they will either be rescued or thrown away. Already there’s a whiff of Toy Story about it.

This new piece by Adam H Wells essentially covers much of the same ground. His forlorn toy characters feast on nostalgia, a delicacy that the piece seems to protest is no longer tasted. The children who once adored them are now fixated on video games, leaving the abandoned toys to bicker among themselves and contemplate the end.

There is something quietly mournful about the replacing of the old with the shiny, computerised new, but Wells’ writing lacks the nuance to unpack any new insight. Instead, cliché is given a few amusing facelifts and metaphorical resonances are glaringly signposted. Committed performances from the cast pick up some of the script’s slack, but their efforts are not enough to produce more than a few weak laughs.

While there are a couple of potentially powerful truths in the toys’ purgatorial state, it is hard to shake the feeling that we have been here before. As one weary character recognises, “you can’t play the same tunes all the time; they get old.” It’s an observation this piece might have done well to heed.

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The Darkroom, C nova

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Originally written for Fest Magazine.

To pass on your memories is to achieve immortality. This, at least, is the fascinating premise of this new piece by Ellen Carr and Witness Theatre, an interrogation of the way we remember. Asking questions about the memories we leave behind us and how they add up to a life, we are presented with a shed, scraps of paper, a pair of slippers, a photograph: clues to be assembled.

But these various different jigsaw pieces don’t quite slot together. There is, at the work’s core, an intriguing idea to be pulled apart around the way that memories work and how they survive us, but this potential is never quite grasped by the production. Instead, the company’s creative curiosity has led it down too many different avenues, playing with a range of aesthetics that are interesting in isolation but fail to fully mesh.

There are some striking moments that emerge from the experimentation. Tightly choreographed movement conveys the jolting monotony of remembered routine, while the fragmentary nature of memory is hinted at through snippets of film projected inventively onto a range of surfaces: a box, a tablecloth, a folder. The execution, however, is uneven.

At one point, Carr’s script delves into psychology, describing the vast unexplored terrain that still exists in the human mind. Is this a gap or a possibility? Carr has certainly seized on a captivating possibility, but it feels like a regrettably wasted one.