Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Hidden" - October 2007

We'd seen this group of RSAMD students in The Winters Tale and Women Beware Women earlier in the year and a few of them had already cropped up in other professional productions, but I was keen to see them tackle a contemporary piece. The involvement of Vanishing Point as co-producers raised expectations and the unusual concept for staging it as two simultaneous linked productions which are then repeated with audiences switching shows (it being largely irrelevant which order in which they are seen) intrigued. If one of the aims of a production is to provoke a reaction, any reaction, it certainly achieved it, and tonight the View From The Stalls household stands greatly divided on the merits of this one.

"Hidden" is described as conceived by Matthew Lenton, devised by the company and text by Lenton, Sandy Grierson and the company and isn't easy to summarize, but here is a quick run through the plot/setting for events... "Hidden I: Escape" is set partly in a hotel room where two men are recovering after escaping from a branch of Boots where customers had been taken hostage. The set is also shared by the characters and events that continue to take place within the store. "Hidden II: Home" operates on the same timeframe looking at how the events impact on the families of those involved and the police officers responding to the crisis. The driving force of the narrative is the demand by the terrorists that the two escapees return - or one of the remaining hostages will be shot. Several characters overlap and wander between both productions while others appear in only one. It's an interesting concept and the shared characters were technically very well executed with no delays or timing issues.

Sadly the 'big picture' was a bit of a letdown, with the terrorist's motives not really working for me - they provided little humour and detracted from the dilemma facing the escapees. The themes of guilt and emotional blackmail were threaded through many of the interlinked segments but they never really managed to say anything or provoke much thought.

Fortunately the individual elements were sufficiently interesting or funny enough (for me) to overcome my doubts about the whole, and what resulted was a fairly enjoyable evening. There's really too much in here to go into a great amount of detail but aspects I particularly enjoyed included Roisin Gallagher's schoolgirl, the set pieces between Jamie Brotherston and Lewis Milsted's policemen, and just about every scene involving Michael Goldsmith's reporter. Quick mention also for good set design and soundtrack for both parts.

A couple of aspects that didn't work for me were the brainwashing/conversion scene, and the scenes between Sally and Luscious which added little to the piece. It was also disappointing that two of the surprises/reveals were fairly heavily signposted to the extent that they were very obvious to those paying attention.

Yes, much of the acting/writing/characterisation was typical sitcom stuff, but for the most part it worked well and generated laughs (although some laughter was definitely of the look at my friend doing something silly variety). It's open to charges of style over substance, and maybe it makes me a fairly shallow theatregoer, but although I can see it's flaws I enjoyed "Hidden" both as a concept and piece of entertaining theatre. Waldorf disagreed really quite strongly and will no doubt add a dissenting view when she has a chance on Wednesday night.

Hidden runs at the RSAMD until Saturday 3rd November and for the record we saw Hidden I followed by Hidden II.

Image: Jenny Hulse and Jamie Brotherston. Photography by Ken Dundas, RSAMD. Used with permission.

1 Heckle

Waldorf said...

I've decided I'm from a different planet from everyone else. The reason for this startling revelation was RSAMD's 'Hidden', because most of the audience were chortling away (Statler included) whilst I sat there with my arms crossed wondering what on earth (or Planet 8) I was watching.

The premise of the interwoven tales was a good one; 2 stories, doesn't matter the order. For me the order possibly did matter. Whilst 'Hidden:Home' was the more palatable for me, after sitting through 'Hidden:Escape' I certainly wasn't in a receptive frame of mind. It was deja vu 'Hot Fuzz' (yes, I didn't like that either).

I'll be honest - it's taken me 24 hours to do this because if I'd written it straight away the comment would have been very short, and probably un-printable. I really didn't like it (in fact I might go as far to use the four letter word beginning with H) - so bear that in mind with anything that follows. After the pasting I took in the comments for 'The Doctor and Devils' for not being constructive enough I'll do my best here.

First of all the pluses. I loved the set design in both, and it was nice to see the mock ups in the lobby before we went in. I also liked the fact that multiple parts of each tale were being told on stage either simultaneously or following very quickly after; nice direction and pacing that must have been technically difficult especially for those characters that appeared in both. The interaction between Michael (Matthew Randell) and Andrea (Ashley Smith) in 'Hidden:Escape' was very strong and Roisin Gallacher's Emma worked well for me. In 'Hidden:Home' Jenny Hulse as the distraught wife was particularly effective.

So why didn't I like it? Theatre, for me, should be about making me able to suspend disbelief and 'Hidden' failed in this miserably in my opinion. The premise was far fetched, but that isn't necessarily a barrier, but it does mean that the writing and the performances need to be strong enough to take me there. They weren't. The farcical bits left me cold and the serious bits left me rolling my eyes. The twists were transparent, so the reveals added nothing. I actively disliked a lot of the characterisations, and as a result I'm unable to judge the acting in isolation from them. I've tried to be fair in what I've written here, but it's been a real struggle as my view is so tainted by a really strong dislike of the piece which makes it hard to be objective. It certainly provoked a reaction from me - just not necessarily what they were after. I obviously need to add 'Sense of Humour' to my Christmas wish list.