Shelter is written and directed by Ash Rowbin as part of The Camden Fringe 2012 – a triptych of plays that explores what it means to be young and the feeling of belonging.
The piece is set in the Tristan Bates black box studio theatre space at The Actor’s Centre, Covent Garden – so a prime location for new writing and audience access. Unfortunately, the piece fails to deliver any real impacting message and seems too focussed on ‘being natural’ than what the writing is actually trying to say. The ensemble fidget uncomfortably, seeming unsure of objectives and understanding of their characters.
You first meet a couple of strangers, Jeremy and Olivia, at a university party played by a unique, intriguing Oliver Cudbill and Lizzie MacGregor. The direction is upstaging and you only ever see the profile of a Macgregor’s face. They look uncomfortable with the staging and their hands are stuck in pockets. There is playful banter and well-timed looks between the pair that suggest a chemistry could develop, but this needs to be energised in order to make the relationship between the characters convincing.
In the second section of the piece, we meet a pair of ‘lovers’ who perform apologetically and seem hesitant. Jamal Lowe plays Luke, struggling to convince his long term girlfriend Emily (Samantha Sherratt) that “everything will be ok”. Lines as strong as “I would do anything for you” are thrown away in embarrassment, and use of syntax and emphasis is unclear. Lowe has such a strong look about him that overshadows his scene partner, but belief in what he’s saying is the only way the scene can become plausible. It would help if Sherratt didn’t spend her time facing the back of the stage but let him read her face and eyes. Unforunately, they are far from ‘lovers’.
The third play shows more promise, with a stealing performance from Simpson who plays Andrew, a graduate who is desperate to get back to his university partying days and is trying to persuade some old flat mates to want the same whilst at a friend’s wedding. Sarcastic Claire, a housemate who moved out as soon as possible, played by Bexie Archer (who looks staggeringly like model/actress Lily Cole), provides a great energy for the bouncing argument and misunderstood anger between the two. They are ably supported by Lucy O’Connor playing Katie, who provides a naturalism that is raw but lacking in detail. It is a shame the writing dips here in a poorly timed, over extended foetus ‘joke’ and comes across as very rushed writing. At least the actors commit to the joke, but with a weak start to the piece, the conviction can’t regain an audiences suspension of disbelief.
The sparse set is appropriate if used correctly. The centre stage flower pot and cigarette butts in the opening scene block the almost possible chemistry between Cudbill and Macgregor. You are distracted by their inability to keep still. There is a beauty in stillness that the director needs to encourage, and the cast’s objectives in such tightly focused scenes need clarifying.
The company show promise and intentions are good and encouraging. You dart between which character you agree with and you do question the value of each point made. But with a tag line as powerful as “We hold a mirror up to the audience and show them themselves”, the production needs to attack rather than present.
To book for Shelter at Tristan Bates Theatre visit http://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk or call 020 7240 6283. Shelter plays until 11 August.