Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Spanglebaby" - April 2007

"Spanglebaby" is Poorboy's latest production and after missing last year's "Falling" I was keen to catch this one on opening night at The Arches theatre festival. Famous for their promenading pieces "Spanglebaby" restricts its movements to one section of the venue as we walk from area to area following the characters. The premise of a charismatic business leader founding a "Better Life" virtual world was intriguing, but in fact turned out to be the least interesting aspect to the show.

The initial 20 minute set up explaining the concept of "Better Life" is a bit of a drag for those even vaguely familiar with the existing "Second Life" but does allow for a couple of nice gags and I guess is required for those less "virtually inclined". Or maybe not...

Because after this the "Better Life" concept largely disappears and we focus on the relationship between boss Richard (Brian Ferguson) and his P.A. "Amy Rose" (Ashley Smith) and from here on the business they are in is largely irrelevant - they could be selling socks and the story would still work. What we're presented with is a bit of an "Ugly Betty" situation - competent but quirkily dressed Personal Assistant working for a demanding boss. This is where the show comes into its own and we see Richard crumble under pressure from above and take out his frustrations on Amy Rose. Their final confrontation really gives Ferguson and Smith a chance to show off their skills.

Played out in the background is the desire by Amy Rose to get into Art School with her photography project, and for one glorious moment I thought this was to be used in a sublime twist but sadly the opportunity was missed, and in its current form I'm not sure how much it added to the piece.

Now this being a Poorboy production I need to comment on the promenading aspect of the show. The blurb about the show handed out to the audience includes a definition of "Spanglebaby" stating that it is "noun, 17th (Century), a person attracted to inconsequential novelty, new fashions or trends". I'm not at all sure that I'm buying this as a genuine word/definition but if so it would appear to apply to Poorboy's attraction to promenading performances in this instance. It just seemed as if it could all have been done just as effectively if properly staged around a fixed area. There is a place for promenading pieces - but not just for the sake of it.

There is a really good show in here, but it's bubbling under the surface and only makes appearances from time to time. The "Better Life" setting could be ditched for something that requires less explanation and give more time to focus on the relationship between Richard and Amy Rose because that is the strength of the piece. I do need to mention the use of strobe lighting - there may have been a technical failure, but that was by far the worst use of strobe lighting I have ever come across - far too fast a frequency and it absolutely destroyed the scene rather than adding to it - sort it out guys.

The infosheet said that the initial plan was to present the show as a work in progress, and to be honest that's probably how I'll think of it - great acting performances but a script that needs to focus on it's strengths and ditch the padding.

Oh yeah, and if you want to know the twist I thought was about to delight me drop me an e-mail at and I'll reveal all.