Memory is one of the stranger parts of our existence, our capacity to store information and recall experiences from the past. It’s connected to faces, smells and the inanimate objects we carry through life, only to leave them behind in the hope others will find value in them. Will we be remembered by anything more than the mess we leave behind?
Based on the experiences of a real afternoon, Leave A Message by James Mitchell and Ed Coleman attempts to answer this question.
After the death of his father, Ed (Coleman) and his friend Sarah (Gabrielle Fernie) take it upon themselves to wade through the wreckage of a life consumed by alcohol and broken relationships. As they trip over bottles of cherry flavoured vodka and rifle through age-old receipts for service station sandwiches, the fragments of his father’s life start to merge, and Ed finds himself caught in the cracks of untouched memories.
The weight each actor gives to their performance is primarily where Leave A Message‘s strengths lie. Coleman dives into Ed’s solemn presence, fleshing out the melancholy comedian lying within. Sarah is a whirlwind of extremes, acting first and asking questions later. But Fernie also captures her caring nature creating an incredibly honest and task driven individual. Hayley-Marie Axe as Linda, a sex worker frequently sought out by Ed’s father, cuts a very brusque yet vulnerable figure.
Sarah Mercade’s set and costume design, along with Will Alder’s lighting and sound, create a space soaked in the atmosphere of a recently extinguished life. It could easily dip into the scene of a house party aftermath or an abandoned squat. Instead, it is shaped into a squalid bedsit which has slowly deteriorated alongside its inhabitant. The flickering light bulb which solely lights the stage during the moments’ that memories and the present appear to merge helps to put us on edge, painting a picture of Ed’s unravelling mental state.
However, throughout the play, the audience suffers from a lack of guidance. The use of the answer phone as a narrative device could be cleverly implemented. However, at the moment it is often the only thing which moves the story forward.
In large parts, the show feels passive. Every time a shot of energy immerses me in the story, long pauses and moments which require me to follow a series of very minute actions completely drain the momentum. This makes the emotions feel very surface-level, and gives the play the feeling of a sitcom or comedy sketch which bounces off the audience’s laughter, rather than a strong structural drive.
Leave A Message is built on promising foundations; however, the highly visual nature and little dialogue make it a difficult story to follow. Its comedic value holds a lot of strength, but doesn’t provide enough energy to create a truly engaging narrative.
Leave A Message is playing until 24 February. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.