It is timely that this brave concept piece about a young man’s struggle with grief, that leads to his attempted suicide, staged in association and raising money for CALM – the suicide prevention charity – is presented at the Hope Theatre, Islington during mental health awareness week.
Suicide is sadly the biggest killer of young men under the age of 45 in the UK, and this story follows “Max” and his suicide attempt and eventual path to recovery in the wake of a tragic fatal car crash involving the death of his beloved girlfriend, Tess.
As an experimental piece of theatre, veering from well executed physical dream like sequences that snap in and out of reality, with well designed sound and lighting states to match, I can see why it was successful at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, amongst the beer sodden, rain soaked comedy and avant-garde performances up there, I can see how it provides something different with snapshots of pathos and real tragedy. However as a stand alone piece of theatre here, I didn’t feel entirely fulfilled. While some performances (in particular the ladies of the piece, Shireenah Ingram and Jessica Frances, with a nice turn too by Daniel Leadbitter as Lucifer among other roles) were grounded and based in truth, I found it harder to empathise with our protagonist Nicholas Shalebridge’s Max or indeed his brother Chris, played by William Shackleton. Their performances felt almost too “put on” and were too big for the space (a cozy 50 seater black box theatre) and up close and personal, I found it difficult to feel empathy when their performances did not feel genuine (more “for show”).
There were some nice moments, for example a very Bouncers-esque flashback sequence of the lads out clubbing, that gave way to one of the more touching parts of the piece, the meeting of Max and Tess, that gave us more of a background to the grief felt by Max. She became his “Co-pilot” as it were and he is lost without her.
Some of the script was improbable – a Doctor telling the only relative of a young man who has barely survived suicide, that his operation has bad odds of success, and even if it does it will need redoing in ten years time – “think of it as changing to a new pair of glasses” with a laugh for example seemed rather inappropriate.
The clever use of car parts and multi media to represent the car crash was great the first couple of times but deployed too much during the hour long play and lost impact.
Overall however, it is good to support new writing and theatre and with a worthy cause behind it, I will be interested to see more from Chalk Line Theatre in the future.
Reviewed by Nicole Faraday
FOLLOW WEST END WILMA