An Impromptu Performance, written and directed by Beatriz Azevedo and performed both on Friday and Saturday, tells the story of a group of middle-class people trapped inside a basement after attempting to rob a drug lord of millions of pounds. Infused with killings, craze, reason and comedic chaos, The Saint attended the play on Friday night to uncover the mystery of the play and take part in its anarchic entertainment.
Upon entrance to the Barron Theatre, I was immediately perturbed by the sight of actors lying on the floor, immobile. Having to somewhat carefully walk past these bodies across the tiny stage floor to find my seat, I slowly processed, with a slight chill, the still-life representation of corpses in front of me. Though bizarrely intriguing, the audience was soon enough perplexed by the lack of visibility of the opening scene, where muffled chokes, a gunshot and a couple of thuds were all one could make out from the bodies crouched over on the stage floor, with the Barron’s scaled set-up and lack of stage leaving the audience’s heads forced to shuffle around, trying to find a field of view.
As an overly-confident, but equally captivating Freddie Phelps (Oli Savage) left behind the mass of corpses on stage, the Barron was plunged into almost total darkness, revealing an anxious, anticipating audience and the threatening drumming of classical piano. Despite the frustrating lack of visibility, the rhythm of this opening scene created a perfect initial hook, leaving the audience hanging for the rest of the play.
After a timely transition, etched not only with the piano music, but also with a few nervous chuckles, we were presented with a similarly bare set, with the addition of a table and two chairs. A shift in tone was automatically noticeable, with light-hearted Freddie and Nick (Seb Bridges), conversing away comically in front of a slightly confused audience. Though having the potential to add a stimulating depth to the play, this shift in tone was subdued by several oddly timed lines, followed by another timely transition, which did not justify the only slight change in set that had to be carried out. However, though bleak, the overall lack of set throughout the play worked with the Barron, instilling an interesting parallel between the characters’ entrapment in the basement, and the audience’s feeling of being confined within the desolate theatre.
These off-putting changes were not only reserved to scene transitions, but were continually displayed within the characters themselves, creating a curious lack of characterisation. Though this absence could work within an absurdist play, which was clearly not the genre displayed here, it ultimately only made for several flat lines and oddly timed shifts. With characterisation shifts, it is important to either carry them out all the way, adding depth to characters’ stories, or ridicule them entirely, adding a comedic aspect to the transitions, however here, we were faced with neither of the two options, creating a somewhat, middle-ground, mundane result.
This lack of thread within Sian Aubert’s (Eilidh Mackinnon) character, who quite suddenly became the main protagonist of the play, unfortunately took away from the potential of the plot, unravelling its focus without any true follow-through. Though the concept of non-linearity within the play was a noteworthy addition, with the opening scene being repeated at the end, whilst displaying an entirely different perspective and portraying Freddie as frail and weak as opposed to nonchalant, the play’s lack of focus, as well as these characterisation shifts, only added to the overall confusion produced throughout each scene.
There seemed to be an general lack of pitch and concept to the play, which, again, could work for a blatantly absurdist play, but instead only accentuated both the fact that it was neither absurd nor focused, exposing an odd blend between the two. Though these aforementioned points did detract from the appreciation of several better scenes and a creditable plotline, the play definitely proved to be entertaining, leaving the audience in an oddly satisfying haze of shock and confusion.