Kind

Tue 6th – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 12:37 on 10th Aug 2013

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Uneasy, intrigued, confused. That is how I felt after the whimsical and somehow melancholy opening scene of ‘Kind’, written by Isobel Cohen. While a mute Tom Powell danced with his puppet daughter, surrounded by the silky tones of Sinatra, a sense of foreboding, an inkling of the tragic and disturbing events that were about to unfold, permeated the audience.

Time jumped forward, and we found ourselves embroiled in the traumatic life of Skildir (Catriona Stirling) as she struggles to reconcile her feelings for the tender Sulair (Jackson Caines) with the knowledge that her stepfather’s iron grip on herself and her mother will never willingly loosen. Winner of the John Kinsella/Tracy Ryan ‘Other’ Prize the play hauls us into the emotional turmoil of this abusive relationship, and the haunting fact that her stepfather only built two rooms, “one for the children, and one for us” stays with us as it does with the play’s heroine.

The actors worked as a well-oiled, cohesive machine, executing seamless scene changes that somehow still fit with the tatty array of scenery - broken ladders and furniture which, conversely, were responsible for both Skildir’s father’s fatal fall and later her ascension out of the horrible situation she then finds herself in. The chemistry between Caines and Stirling was palpable, and in playing the parts of these two young lovers they gave natural and believable performances, making them both engaging and endearing to watch.

The tiny, dark room in which this play was performed put the action in such close proximity with the audience that we really felt involved in the harrowing lives of the characters. We could feel the anger radiating from Justin Blanchard as he portrayed the part of the cruel Diarmad, but simultaneously managed to get across the character’s anguish and fear with a heartbreaking resonance.

The use of puppets to fill in for the children emphasised the way the adults of the play viewed them: as dolls which, for Skildir and Alice, were helpless and in need of protection, and, for Diarmad, defective. It also symbolized the powerless state of many of the characters, and was a poignant and touching addition.

Although the play was full to the brim with very real emotion, there were moments, such as Skildir’s fight with her teacher, which could have done with a bit more commitment from the actors. In a play like this there is no room for actors to hold back at moments when they are required to fight, as these are often the moments that make or break a play. However, overall, ‘Kind’ was an intensely emotional roller coaster that drew the audience in from the very beginning, and will definitely not be forgotten in a hurry.

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Matthew Davies

at 15:13 on 10th Aug 2013

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‘Kind,’ a thoughtful and well-acted piece of new writing by Isobel Cohen, took me by surprise. It’s difficult for Fringe shows, and particularly for student ones, to handle large themes without seeming overblown and pretentious, but this is something the cast and writers of ‘Kind’ have managed to achieve.

‘Kind’ is the story of Skildir (Catriona Stirling), a young woman trapped in a miserable home life with her browbeaten mother, abusive stepfather, and six young sisters. Skildir’s family history is told in a wordless sequence at the beginning which immediately impresses with bold aesthetic choices and eerie sonic dissonance. Scenes of domestic conflict clash with the dulcet tones of Frank Sinatra; young Skildir is depicted as a puppet, a striking and inspired choice which illustrates well the ‘otherness’ of children and the way in which adults can treat them as objects to be discarded. Skildir’s young sisters, who are implied to be quite severely disabled, are depicted in a similar fashion, underscoring the extent to which their father ignores and detests them.

Some relief from such heavy domestic themes can be found in the other main preoccupation of ‘Kind’: the lives of birds and the strange stories which they can inspire. Depicted with a variety of props – from detailed masks to simple sticks – we hear a sequence of nested stories about birds, from the ‘washerwoman’ or Cormorant to ‘The Great Skua.’ These are all narrated by Jackson Caines, who plays a mysterious boy named Sulair. Sulair’s relationship with Skildir is an isolated dot of optimism in an otherwise rather bleak play, and while the bird motif is always overshadowed by Skildir’s home life, the two narratives feed off and into each other, producing interesting parallels and broaching important themes.

A word on the acting, which is certainly accomplished. Stirling’s Skildir and Caines’s Sulair form the heart of a strong and believable cast, who are convincing in their portrayal of the members of ‘a community of 132 souls,’ and are largely allowed to perform without the intrusion of extensive lighting or sound effects. Even Skildir’s stepfather, played by Justin Blanchard, proves to be a tortured and complex character: a major achievement on the actor’s part. Such achievements are typical of ‘Kind,’ which is obviously a labour of love from a talented young cast and writer.

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