Friday, 1 November 2013

Meanwhile @ Bolton Octagon, 14.09.13

Some contrasts just work: black is bolder with white, sour tastes sharper with sweet and the heat of the day is better when balanced by the cool of night. But other contrasts are not so positive, like the one at the core of Meanwhile, where the play of children clashes against the pain of conflict. Set in the 1980's at the height of the troubles, Meanwhile follows two concurrent tales. The primary plot concerns The Torpedoes, an all-girl Belfast football team preparing for their annual St Patrick's Day match. The girls have their ups, downs, fall outs and make ups, but when it comes down to it they're having fun. This playing is thrown into sharp relief by the secondary story, where Bobby Sands (Richard Patterson) reads extracts from his diary. Some are vitriolic, others filled with love, but most of all they speak to the horrors of which humans are capable as Sands collapses under the indecent treatment of his captors.

Marshalling these two storylines is no mean feat, but writer Colin Connor and director Nick Birchill achieve a balance between polemic and play, not getting bogged down in politics yet not trivialising the troubles. The changes between the two are handled sharply, making full use of a simple set that fluidly forms into a multitude of highly evocative locations. Movement is a strong suit in general, the highlight being a wonderfully frantic football match that sees the entire cast careering back and forth across the stage with a mixture of tableaux, slow motion and carefully choreographed chaos.

The step up from the tiny Lass O’Gowrie (where Meanwhile debuted) to the studio theatre space at The Bolton Octagon is admirably achieved, and proves there is life beyond the fringe for new writing. Second time around Meanwhile offers stronger production values, more creative blocking and tighter performances. The addition of a band on stage to soundtrack the show added a welcome emotive guide to the storytelling, complimenting the narrative beautifully.

The play requires that the cast be flexible and inventive. Both the basics – such as the Irish accents – and the difficulties of portraying sensitive subject matter were done well. The ensemble portray children despite all being adults, which can be problematic, but they managed to convey the exuberance of youth without making the politics of children feel insignificant.

Seeing the play of children concurrent with the story of Sands shows the meaningless of human conflict, and makes one despair for the misery we bring upon ourselves. But Meanwhile offers redemption too: as the girls show, we need never have such difficulties at all if we play the game in the right spirit.

Words: Andrew Anderson & Megan Griffith
Photos: Courtesy of Bolton Octagon

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