THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH – THE LAB – 21 DECEMBER 2019
RUNNING TIME 1 HOUR – No interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 20 DECEMBER 2019
The workings of Cern’s Large Hadron Collider is at the centre of this new piece of writing by Alex Robins. Told in two time zones simultaneously – significant in the history of the LHC – the play is told through two interlocking presentations. A central ring of light – variously changing colours; sometimes on, off or chasing in varying frequencies – provides a focus for the circular auditorium which is split with a presentation station on either side. One of the actors works from a lit board with coloured pens and the other from a cork board with a number of pictures and objects to illustrate his ideas and opinions. One presentation seems entirely positive and one the opposite, espousing thoughts that we might all be dead as a result of the LHC. It is all very involved.
The actors move in and out of the circle of light verbalising ideas at breakneck speed which sometimes sees them walking at speed around the circle of lights, to a soundtrack of throbbing mechanical sounds – I am guessing all this is to represent the LHC at work….. but I am not sure.
Indeed, I am not sure about any of what I hear. I am no scientist and particle theory et al are only subjects I have really come across from a passing acquaintance with ‘The Big Bang Theory’.
This is where my problem with ‘Fireworks’ begins – and begins early in the piece. I was lost. I didn’t understand much of what was being said. Maybe some of the audience did, but I was disengaged almost from the start and the piece did not pick me up again. The intensity of the line delivery meant so much of what was said became a blur. Yes, some of the writing is very vivid, poetic and descriptive, but the first-person delivery becomes tiresome. There is a little humour throughout, but it is slight and forced.
We get to know virtually nothing about the characters – whose names are only mentioned late in the piece – as a result we have no empathy, no connection with them – they are scientifically sterile and one-dimensional. The ultimate coming together of the two in the same time zone could be one charged with emotion, but it cannot achieve this because of what has gone before.
The staging created an issue – the constant switching back and forth from one presentation to another made it feel like a tennis match and eventually I just focussed on one of them to save my neck muscles. Nice idea certainly, but it doesn’t work well from an audience perspective.
The two performers, Gráinne O’Mahony and James Murphy-Stevens give some of the most earnest performances I have seen and cope brilliantly with the complicated and detailed script, but the story disconnect between the characters doesn’t help us to feel anything inside.
This a cerebral piece much of which is above the head of the general theatre goer and delivered in such a way that the audience will find extremely difficult to compute. The story line is very difficult to completely follow and the wording, though poetic, is often impenetrable. Alex Robins is to be applauded for venturing into subject matter which I can only assume is a passion of his, but the result is confused and unengaging.
RIVER – GRÁINNE O’MAHONY
DREW – JAMES MURPHY-STEVENS
DIRECTOR – JACK BRADFIELD
WRITER – ALEX ROBINS
SOUND DESIGN – ALICE BOYD