The Graveyard Slot

Sat 3rd – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 14:10 on 13th Aug 2013

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The premise for Hecate Theatre’s production of ‘The Graveyard Slot’ is an interesting one. The on-stage version of a Chinese Box novel, we watch the performers perform the roles of performers performing a spooky radio play. Confusing, I hear you say? Unfortunately that’s exactly what it was. Broken up by intermittent pauses, in which we hear some typically 40s/50s style adverts for “Llama cigarettes”, the story of Janet and her friends’ trip to her Auntie’s mansion and their ghostly adventures there is, to say the least, mediocre.

Problems in the arrangement of the piece were apparent from the start. Each of the six actresses was required to play a variety of different characters, each with different personalities and accents. Although the idea was that it was a radio show, therefore it was only the voices that mattered, for a live theatre audience the constant switching was incredibly perplexing. As the performers didn’t notably change position or body language when changing parts, and the variation in accent and intonation was not pronounced enough, it was often unclear who was who and what was going on.

The plot, which was a Scooby-Doo-esque, ghost-filled adventure featuring an array of shady characters and some crime-solving that the Famous Five would be proud of, was not altogether unpleasant to watch, but the intended element of comedy seemed to be missing. The fact that the whole thing was performed with the actors holding scripts, as would have been the case with the recording of 50s radio shows, would perhaps have worked if they were simply there as props. However, some of the cast was evidently still depending on them in order to remember their lines, resulting in some occasionally stunted and unnatural speech.

It is possible that some of these slip-ups, the tripping over lines and slightly weak singing, were intentional and supposed to create characters that were simply bad radio actresses, but if this is the case then it was not exaggerated enough and did not come across to the audience. Saying that, there were elements of the show that were very impressive. The cast’s performance of the sound effects was inventive and amusing, and this very British adventure was intriguing to watch at times. This show would probably still work as a radio production, but, at the moment, the on-stage version is probably better watched with one’s eyes closed.

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Theodora Hawlin

at 14:17 on 13th Aug 2013

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A graveyard slot is the affectionate term for a period in radio schedules where the number of listeners is somewhat depleted. With this in mind the six female performers of Hecate Theatre Company don’t seem to be promising us much with a drama whose function is to fill this space, particularly when they themselves acknowledge on their website the drop in quality that usually accompanies these productions. The two tiered performance, with the dual concept of the radio play, and then of the radio play being performed, although cunning, also teetered towards appearing lethargic. All members of the cast clutch scripts which they frequently refer to. Whether pretending or not, it blurs the lines between dedication and idleness.

The show doesn’t really benefit from its staged performance, however, what the theatrical staging of the production does give us is a welcoming glimpse behind the scenes. The sound engineering techniques provide simple comedic value: a Jenga tower collapses as a skeleton; a roll of tin foil becomes a spatter of rain; a popped balloon the resounding blast of TNT. However the novelty of this revelation wears off rapidly. It’s a surprisingly full stage for a show that depends primarily on sound. Three microphones - two standing, one for additional effects - with a wonderfully random assortment of props and a single keyboard manned expertly by Sarah Garrard, who interjects beautifully throughout.

Matthew Watt and Hannah Chadwick’s creation pays homage to the wireless dramas of the 1940s and 50s, and it’s a nod to this form that becomes my favourite part of this production. The comical interludes of the realities of the radio drama format centre around messages from sponsors, ‘Llama cigarettes’, which claim to help ‘beat the royal mile blues’ - these Fringe-themed jokes are tagged with the amusing bass end-line: ‘missing out will make you spit’.

The quintessentially English upper-class of Janet de Bastion (Gemma Reynolds) contrasts comfortably with the all-American glitz encompassed in Frances Ecclehart (Hannah-Marie Chidwick), who, along with friends, retreats to the comfort of her Aunt Ida (Natalie Jones) and the family estate. At the house, the group undergo a Noel Coward-esque summoning by the mysterious Madame Izmama (Katlin Gulyus) in order to uncover the hidden family fortune. Few clichés remain untouched.

The suspense is sweet. Yet the inconsistency of the staged relations between characters is incredibly frustrating, with the interactions of characters physically appearing to have no strict rules. We’re constantly teased by the prospect of visual interaction between characters without it ever being fully realised before us. This is a clever and quirky production that will tickle but, ultimately, it’s a quaint, not powerful, performance.

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