Hip Shot: ‘Eight’
Redrum – at Fort Fringe, 612 L Street NW
Remaining (Fringe) performance:
Saturday, July 24, at 7 p.m.
They Say: "In a time of terror, a new generation finds its voice. Experience the Fringe phenomenon that thrilled Edinburgh, London and New York! From hot young playwright Ella Hickson. Your votes create the show. Eight lives. Four choices. Take your pick."
Ian's Take: The Washington Rogues' production of Ella Hickson's Eight brings to D.C. a play that's already been audience-tested and critic-approved at no less a venue than the original Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Which might incline you to accuse them of bringing in a ringer, if you weren't so busy thanking them for presenting this amazing piece of writing, and casting it with a group of actors up to the task of bringing Hickson's engrossing monologues to life.
The play starts with a bit of audience participation: Ballots are handed out, with a brief description of each of eight characters who each have a potential monologue in the show. Based on these single paragraphs, you're asked to choose which character you most want to see. The top four vote-getters are the four characters who have their monologues performed, while the remainder of the cast watch from chairs upstage, or act as extras or props in the performed pieces.
Cynics might see this as a gimmick designed to encourage repeat viewings. Like a fast food Happy Meal movie toy promotion, you have to keep coming back until you've collected all eight. But the hole in that logic rests in the fact that there would be no compulsion to return if the half of the show that you do see that first time wasn't so terrific. As it is, you could come back and end up seeing the same four monologues on your second viewing and barely be disappointed about it.
The monologues themselves focus on British twenty-to-thirtysomethings, most dealing with loss or emptiness in their lives. Pre-millennial tension seems to have given way to post-millennial despair. In the performance I attended, we saw: a traditionalist Thatcherite prostitute (Rachel Manteuffel) lamenting the rise of Labour and its impact on the masculine confidence of her exclusively Tory clientele; a gay art gallery owner (Frank Britton) who has just found his dead partner, who hanged himself in the stockroom; a former body-builder and war veteran (Joseph Thornhill) whose obsession with the human form has led him to a post-war job working in a morgue, becoming too attached to the corpses; and a party-girl in a loveless marriage (Ali Walton), sneaking out for dancing and trysting whilst her husband slumbers.
Depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction: These are the qualities that define Hickson's gallery as they engage in their direct-address confessionals. These characters are too young to feel this much like the world has left them behind, to feel this out of place and lost, but that's exactly where they find theselves, coping as best they can with a life that makes little sense.
The odd structure of Hickson's play, the voting, and only presenting half of its potential, simply heightens the feelings of emptiness. The viewer wants more, wants to know the stories of those left without a role when the lights come up. One also wonders what it's like for the actor, to rehearse, to remember one's lines, to show up for the performance, and then sit there unchosen. They contribute to Hickson's theme in their inaction and unrealized potential, making this something far more complex than a gimmick, a daring structural choice that enriches the difficult headspace the playwright is trying to get into.
See It If: There's really no conditional statement to be made here. Simply put, "See it."
Skip It If: Are you kidding? Under no circumstances should you miss this.