Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Smalltown" - February 2011

On reflection, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that a show comprising three parts by three writers would result in three differing opinions. But while you may have expected our views to be split on the success of each element of the show, that isn't how things turned out. In fact, the three opinions that we arrived at on Friday night can be pretty much summed up as follows: Waldorf hated pretty much all of it, while I thought it had some moments but wasn't great. The third opinion? Well that would be the rest of the audience who appeared to love it.

The overarching premise for "Smalltown" sees a toxic new brand of bottled water cause havoc across Ayrshire and each of the writers is responsible for the story set in their respective hometowns. While every audience will see the main part of each tale; they are then asked to vote to as to which one they wish to see the conclusion of.

Douglas Maxwell's Girvan based segment gets the show up and running and establishes the chain of events that have brought the towns to the brink of disaster. To his credit, Maxwell seems to have the most to say with his piece - an ambition sadly missing in the two later parts. He takes a look at the impact growing up in an isolated town can have and the tensions that can arise between those who leave, those who stay, and those who return. He also throws in some nice gags, but the more clever/subtle ones tend to get smothered by performances that really ham things up.

DC Jackson sets his tale in the same universe as his 'Stewarton Trilogy', featuring a character from "The Ducky" and name-checking others. In fact there's more connection to his previous works than there is to the Girvan and Ardrossan elements of "Smalltown". While the bottled water is once more the cause of the town's problems, there's nothing to move the story arc onwards or suggest anything of the bigger picture outside young Ruby's bedroom. It's also questionable exactly how the teenage angst on display here is so different from the country's more urban areas (effects of the toxic water aside). And it's difficult not to feel that the nudity and puppet sex is a rather cheap and easy way to buy laughs. Perhaps it's due to a busy competing workload, but Jackson's piece has a 'phoned in' feel about it.

Fortunately Johnny McKnight's zombie filled Ardrossan based piece feels much more polished - although again the setting is somewhat incidental. It also benefits from performances from Julie Brown and Anita Vettesse that seem much more considered and subtle than in the earlier pieces, and McKnight's snappy one-liners gave me my first genuine laughs of the evening. Had we only seen 'Ardrossan' it would have made for an enjoyable evening, but it wasn't strong enough to carry the baggage of the other two parts. In fact, Waldorf was so disinterested by the first half of the show that if there hadn't been the prospect of a 'new voice' after the interval she would have been campaigning for an early exit.

Disappointingly we were deprived of seeing the conclusion of McKnight's piece - despite it appearing to me to have the edge in an admittedly close audience vote. Instead, we got the conclusion of Maxwell's Girvan, which although amusing failed to capitalise on the more thoughtful elements of its tale.

But while "Smalltown" may not have been for us, please do remember what we said right at the start - everyone else in the theatre genuinely seemed to be having a great time.

Smalltown from Random Accomplice has completed its run at the Tron, but continues to tour Scotland until 26 March.
Image by John Johnston used with permission


Blog re-fresh - Update

We've taken longer than planned to finalise our redesign and still have a little tinkering to do - and things may still 'break' from time to time. Hopefully we'll be able to apply the update before too long, but until then, normal service will be resumed...