Dead Letter Office

Fri 24th February 2012

reviews

Amber Matthews

at 23:40 on 24th Feb 2012

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Gareth Davies’ "Dead Letter Office" was most definitely something that many would term an “arty” play – and was endowed with all the characteristic flourishes and flaws that are associated with that label. It more or less hit off the Beckett-esque tone its billing boasted, and the stunning set and costume design reminded me of a vintage sepia-tone photograph. And the writing was intensely lyrical. Normally I would criticize a script that is overly poetic, as it tends to disengage the audience from feeling with the characters, or just makes their eye-brows shoot up their collective forehead if it gets really pretentious – but in this case the cast just about got away with it. The intimate setting of the Assembly Rooms workshop, combined with the brevity of the piece (it took less than half an hour) meant that the poetic dialogue of the show didn’t get tiresome.

Instead, we received an intriguing snapshot of a surreal post-apocalyptic world, in which relationships between people appear to have completely broken down, which was wonderfully signified by the dark-lens goggles they were all wearing – resembling a cross between a prop from a nuclear-war Sci-Fi, and the headgear of a 50s bi-plane pilot. William Hockedy gave a solid performance of the amusingly repellant Milton, whose threats towards the other characters were just brutal enough to momentarily tip him over from comic to chilling – one of the best moments of the performance. Watching the couple’s (Eve and Pod’s) awkward silences and exaggerated delight in the small things they found to talk about was at once bizarre and hilariously familiar, reminding me of disastrous early-teen forays into the realm of romance – and eliciting several appreciative chuckles from an otherwise gravely attentive audience.

The only serious problem I had with the script was that the couple’s love affair shifted from touchingly comic to boringly quaint at the end. Despite being billed as a “dystopian love story,” they quite quickly and predictably got their happy ending. As much as it was nice to see the female Eve rescuing her paramour from the evil clutches of Milton (hopefully anyone who has read "Paradise Lost" would agree…), I was hoping for something more than a twee happy-ever-after for this pair of stilted lovers. Perhaps a darker conclusion would have better suited the tone of the play – but then, maybe I just relish doom-and-gloom a bit too much. Likewise, the closing scene, in which Milton lamented his being left all alone, was difficult to find moving, as it dropped into torpid cliché. If Davies intended this ironically, it was not made clear.

However, the ensemble’s acting talents more than made up for these disappointing, though small, faults. Harriet Tarpy, who played Eve, was convincingly naïve and wispy. But it was Jamie Kitson that really shone as the innocent and trusting Pod, as he appeared totally absorbed in the role – though perhaps I just liked him because my maternal instincts were kicking in.

All in all, it was a delightfully avant-garde piece, visually stunning and comically moving – and there’s nothing wrong with a somewhat twee indulgence of our romantic sides every so often.

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