Weston Studio 8th & 9th December

Review by a Young Critic.

Velvet Ensemble were in the WMC’s Weston Studio earlier this week with their first full production: Unprotected written by Bethan Marlow.

The play opens with our introduction to Violet (Rhian Blythe) the central character; her first monologue is a separate moment to the content of the play, as if she is asking permission and even forgiveness for what we are about to see. We see her moving into a new flat, alone and away from her ‘suffocating’ apparently religious parents and she embarks on a journey of understanding that transforms her innocence and naivety into an understanding of who she is. She moves between moments of innocence and complete manic, irrational behaviour which confuses Tom the second character as he is drawn towards her and at the same time pushed away. Whilst Tom is something of a plot device for Violet’s journey he is given motivation and we empathise with his position. For instance, in a moment of irrationality near the end, Violet threatens to jump out of a window and Tom freaks out – we are given to understand that his own torment, his initial reluctance towards Violet, comes from his past where someone else had jumped from a window.

In trying to understand who she is, Violet takes on the persona’s of stereotypes and other characters, dressing up as a sexy girl, working as a charity street vendor and the housewife baking quiche: she picks the completely wrong moment to turn up at one of Tom’s haunt’s to give him the quiche. The play deals with the issues of normality: how we as individuals see it, are afraid of what it means and also how we interpret it in others. Violet plays this game where she imagines what it is like to be other people and plays out the imaginings – “ [she wants to be everything and not her, but not knowing how] ”. There are also questions of love and how we fear that – Tom recognises that he is drawn to Violet but denies his feelings and refuses her cravings of a stable relationship by running off and appearing embarrassed around her.

It was a very bold move of Bethan’s to only include two visible characters, as the fewer characters there are the harder it is to create dramatic flow, but the content of the character’s actions provides plenty of tension and dramatic progression keeping the audience engrossed. It is a tense and very physical play with both actors running around, falling, jumping in and out of the bed and there are moments of comic genius in the dialogue that keep us intrigued. There are instances where Tom and Violet ‘speak’ to other people in the street although they are never seen and including those extra people would take away from the impact of Tom and Violet’s interaction. The exclusion of Violet’s possessive parents is explained away in her description of her parents and the “God is a bastard” line, although this is something of a stereotype and the only major one used in the play – the denouncing of a child for religious blasphemy. Yet without the stereotype it would have been more difficult to explain away their absence, thus taking away from the impact of Violet’s journey: her parents job is not to be there.

The set was a simple and effective raised square with the bare essentials of a bedroom and all of Violet’s possessions stored in cardboard boxes and it was mentioned that the bed was a ¾ bed rather than a standard double; whether this was a space issue or to force the characters to come closer together in the bed scenes I am unsure. The white of Violet’s internal space and world contrasts with the black corridor around it that represents ‘outside’ with leaves, crisp packets and empty cans litter the edges to reinforce the opposing worlds and there were specific points on the square the actors used to represent a door and a window. The opposing colours could also be seen to subtly clarify Violet’s opposing behaviour. An effective stage direction were the 'sex' scenes where the lights would black out as the characters started to undress or had moved onto the bed and were in position as if to get on with it, a clean yet brilliant way of handling a moment that is often difficult to carry through.

It is impressive that Rhian Blythe and Gareth Milton were only in rehearsals with director Sarah Bickerton for just over three weeks and the fact that they only had the locked in script for a week is even more notable, really proving that these are two brilliant performers. Although as Bethan mentioned after, Rhian played Violet in the original Never Fear Love production for the 2009 incubator project so she would have already had some insight into this very complex character. What added to the characterisation, and probably purely accidental were the bruises on Rhian's legs, I wouldnt be suprised she had collected them from the rehearsing of the rough and tumble parts of the play.

There certainly were no location issues – they could have been two individuals in any corner of any city across the country, only Rhian’s accent placed it in Wales against Gareth’s far more neutral accent. Any person watching the play, anywhere in the country would be encouraged to recognise that normal isn’t real – there are eccentricities, strange habits and unusual behaviours in everyone of us but we all must be careful that the intricate weavings we play out in life do not start to play us like a game and turn everything against us as Violet’s behaviour turns against her in Tom walking out of her life after admitting that he had loved her. If there was a decision to take it further or even on tour I would greatly encourage that decision and wish it every success.

Bethan Marlow, Sarah Bickerton and Victoria "V" John

Congratulations to Velvet Ensemble, Sarah Bickerton and Bethan Marlow for such a great production and good luck for the next project and the future ladies, I am eager to see more.

For more information go to http://www.velvetensemble.co.uk/.

My blog is http://aravensquill.blogspot.com/

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