Clever, creative and compassionate.
Writer and performer Brad Johnson has nailed a compelling and genuine story sharing the importance of honesty and communication within a relationship. The conversation is quick witted and dynamic with engaging shifts fluctuating between romanticism and harsh tension. Despite having only two performers, therefore challenging Gustav Freytag’s idea of a “great play” having to introduce new characters with new ideas, the story does not drag and smoothly keeps the audience engaged as could be heard by the distinct silence or genuine laughter.
The play reminisces on the highs and lows of a chance relationship at a student party, however, the concept is relatable on a human level regardless of age or class or political passions; the conversation is human, relatable and the playful connection between the two characters, Katie and Jack, reminds you of the intimate and painful moments of your own relationships.
At first, I was pessimistic due to the hollow sounds of coffee cups, however, this was quickly dispelled when the creative skills interjected and in the style of Gecko physical theatre company’s piece The Time of Your Life, in a short space of performance time, a whole relationship is shared with clarity and detail creating genuine responses of pathos and empathy. I was particularly impressed by the use of space to express a whole range of physical emotions; rostra the size of the smallest of university digs, designed by Sophia Pardon, is used yet the story doesn’t appear cramped or affected otherwise by the lack of space; if anything, it probably aids the intimacy of the storytelling.
Lauren Cooney, playing Katie, finds a lot of truth in her character, however nearer the opening the listening to Brad Johnson, playing Jack, is at times not very sharp, resulting in preconceptions of reactions rather than real visceral responses to Jack. Having said this, when the story thickens, her communication is very real and, without spoiling anything, a real turning point in the piece creates a very moving piece of theatre that Cooney executes with great skill.
Johnson, playing Jack, despite a mane of macho hair, adopts 19-year-old characteristics clearly, his actions in trying to change his objectives are a little monotonous at times, but his overall arch of his character is exciting to watch and easy to invest in. His communication with Cooney is real and compassionate and had me genuinely feeling sorry for him.
Constructively, I think that character development has further potential during transitions and that the pop culture songs to fill the silence, creates an atmosphere in the transitions is an easy option that two talented actors such as Cooney and Johnson could overcome. Despite this, Rob Ellis’ idea to keep the story flowing isn’t ineffective. Movement director, Andrew Elkins’, whilst aesthetically interesting, feels unnecessary and feels like a distraction from an otherwise smooth and fast engaging through-line.
The space at theatre N16 seems ideal for the production and despite the high ceiling and bustle of the pub outside, I didn’t lose a single word Cooney and Johnson shared which I highly commend seeing as most West End theatres can’t achieve this even with microphones! Furthermore, Johnson’s clarity with his Essex accent is perfect for stage!
This production is a delight to watch as a spring artist and is sure to inspire you with: innovative writing, quality acting and a humane story full of compassion and personal interpretation.
Unicorn played at Theatre N16 from 21 to 24 May 2018