Tuesday, 9 August 2016

EIF 2016 – Vanishing Point's Interiors, or, Through A Window Unevenly

Interiors, the second of Vanishing Point's two EIF shows is, thank goodness, an improvement on The Destroyed Room. It manages some moments of emotional connection, and there is a genuinely funny scene when one couple launches into an impressive piece of choreography to Video Killed the Radio Star – they are helped by the quality of that song which comes as a blessing in a show where there is rather too much ineffective silence, though it is as well not to give too much thought to the likelihood of the couple a) having actually devised such a fairly complicated routine and b) really choosing to perform it at a dinner party of people their relationship to whom is murky at best.

The conceit of the show is also more original than that of The Destroyed Room. The audience are similarly cast as voyeurs but this time looking through the window of a house somewhere in the far north, on the night which marks the halfway point of winter. An annual party is gathering inside. However, we cannot hear anything that any of the attendees say for the 80 minute duration of the play. Instead, we get a partial narrative from a ghost who is outside with us. It's at least (unlike Destroyed Room) an interesting idea. Unfortunately, the execution fails to sustain it.

The ensemble give solid performances but while there are moments of emotional connection (Peter's grief over the loss of his wife, Ruby the teenager beginning to discover her sexuality) there aren't enough of them to sustain the length. As with Destroyed Room we also don't learn enough about many of the characters – this is a particular problem with the couple whose possible engagement is clearly intended to be the climax of the piece. It is also insufficiently clear how all these people have come to be there which again weakens the potential impact of what happens to them. Another annoyance is the contact lens routine which some people found funny but I found completely unconvincing. I have known a number of people who used contact lenses, I have never known any of them ask someone else to put a lens into one of their eyes for them, and I found it frankly incredible that a lens wearer, having agreed to such a scenario, would not prevent the other person putting the lens into the wrong eye before they did so.

More seriously flawed is the narrator. I initially assumed she must be the ghost of the person who would usually have been present at the party and for whom an empty chair is left at the dinner table. Had this been followed through it would have given rather more weight to her assumption of the authority to tell us what the people in the room are thinking. Instead, by the end, she just appears to be some sort of voyeuristic ghost with god-like mind-reading capacities. I did not find this convincing, indeed, it struck me as problematic in a similar way to using plays for political lectures. If I only hear one person's point of view on something on stage I instinctively tend to distrust it – and the same applied in this case. At least one other reviewer has suggested parallels between this piece and Alan Ayckbourn and I think the analogy is a good one as it exposes key weaknesses of this play. In the best Ayckbourn I've seen the detailed relationships are stripped bare, and you get inside most peoples minds – the whole experience, done well, can thus pack devastating emotional punch, while being very funny – two areas Interiors comes up short.

As with The Destroyed Room, the company again have problems with an ending. They borrow the device of our narrator telling us what everybody's fate is going to be. This can be enormously powerful – the end of The History Boys comes to mind – but it is a bit of a damp squib here because of the thinness of the portrayals of these individuals and the relationships between them in the rest of the play. This would have been an obvious point at which to stop, but the play stumbles on ineffectively.

One other point worth noting, on the technical side, is the presence (which seems to be increasingly inescapable in most live performance) of more projections, this time by Finn Ross. These range from the inoffensive (moon and snow flurries) to the ineffective (close ups of dancing couples inside the room).

This pair of shows have not proved a distinguished start to this year's theatre programme. We can only hope things will improve.

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