An award-winning photographer returns to the country that made him famous. 20 years previously, in the midst of the civil war, he shot a photo of a girl in an explosion that captured the essence of a nation and became a symbol of political conflict across the world. Before going to an ambassador’s lunch to receive praise and accolades for his work, he agrees to a short interview in his hotel room with a national newspaper. The interviewer however, a young and ambitious woman from this still politically turbulent country, has motive of her own for wanting to interview this world-famous photojournalist.
When I initially read the synopsis for this play, I was admittedly a bit nervous. Would a fringe production be able to capture the essence of political uncertainty and heightened emotion that this play seemingly required? Would the writing be too heavy and intense or would it move fluidly and keep the audience engaged? As the play itself started I still wasn’t sure. The photographer Frederick Salomon (Almiro Andrade) was supposed to be a Westernised, middle class, distinguished gentleman in my head. Andrade came on stage looking tatty and with an accent I couldn’t easily place. His early lines lacked believability – as Salomon walks into the hotel room with interviewer Hanna (Bea Segura) he should seem on edge, frustrated and rattled at being forced to give this interview so close to the awards lunch that he hadn’t prepared for. But Andrade’s and Segura’s initial exchange of pleasantries and light-hearted interview questions seemed stunted, with no natural flow. It just put me on edge from the start when I wanted to relax into the dialogue so that any tension I felt was from the scene and not from the capability of the actors.
Then Ida (Laya Martí), a young mother desperate to do anything for her sick daughter, and Dr Brown (David Lee-Jones), a diplomat eager to take advantage, entered the same set with a parallel scene that played out simultaneously. Immediately these actors seemed more emotive and the dialogue naturally flowed. I have to give credit to Guillem Clua’s writing here; the script was written so that the dialogue in each scene mirrored its counterpart. The direction by Silvia Ayguadé and Franko Figueiredo also worked effectively here – one set of actors performed silently in the background so the audience could focus on the other whilst still having an overall atmospheric experience. My only criticism here was that the ‘background’ actors seemed to move in slow motion and whilst this was intended not to draw focus away from the active performers, it inevitably did; especially when the background action seemed more believable than the foreground.
As the plot unfolded the actors overall seemed to relax, become more comfortable with their lines and better regulate the flow of the whole performance. There were still some stumbles in scenes and some of the interaction didn’t quite feel natural – unfortunately Andrade never seemed entirely comfortable or convincing throughout, a shame considering that he had some potentially moving material to work with. Martí and Lee-Jones remained strong throughout – Lee-Jones was sinister and lecherous when taking advantage of Martí’s desperate situation, but she remained stoic throughout as a mother who would do whatever it took to help her child.
As Hanna (Segura) became more and more emotionally involved in the play, Segura seemed to grow into the role. Indeed her central monologues were emotionally electric and charged with suspense, sorrow and atmosphere. One in particular really took my breath away – two minutes where the spotlight shined on her (literally) and the music grew and developed to add pace to her speech, all combined into a colourful picture for the audience to experience. This was the one speech that really captured my attention, I felt intrinsically involved in Hanna’s recollection of her emotional past.
Ayguadé and Figueiredo made great use of the limited space to fluidly move the actors in between each other even though they may be in separate scenes – different hotel rooms in the same complex with stories that became more and more entwined as the production drew to its conclusion. Overall this play worked; it was really well-written with effective direction. The slight mismatch in acting capability muddied the waters slightly on what could potentially be a crystal clear, shining performance of fringe theatre.
Skin in Flames is playing at Park Theatre until 6 June. For more information and tickets, see the Park Theatre website.