Theatre: Review: solo[solo], Bristol Old Vic Basement

Kerry Hood, November 14, 2014

Picture: Farrows Creative

What were you doing on October 1 2013?  Who were you doing it with? What did you buy online? Where did you swipe your loyalty card?

Don’t remember? Never mind – they know, because they’re watching you.

Theatre West’s first autumn season away from their long-standing Alma Tavern Theatre home continues in BOV’s Basement with Samuel E. Taylor’s solo[solo] – part of TW’s One Day project that asked selected writers to create work inspired by any news event of the aforementioned date.

Before the main event, there’s a short play, Broadbent by Bruce Fellows. It’s a curious piece and somewhere within the rather stilted performances that muddy the dialogue is a poignant drama about heroes – the ones we’ve heard of and the millions we haven’t.

On to solo[solo] itself: taking place over one evening, this one-man play begins with Finn (an assured, focused performance from Philip Perry) recording onto tape his childhood holidays – or ‘adventures’. Part memorial, part accusation and ultimate confessional, we are immediately drawn into a familial world that moves from sibling rivalry and parental disharmony to sinister obsession.

The narrative really takes off with a terrific section detailing the group sessions he undergoes during training to become an intelligence analyst, and it is soon clear that the mantra “Never get found out, never be seen, never be heard” will be of huge personal significance for Finn and his family.

Throughout, clever sound design by Sam Halmarack gives a filmic, rough-cut quality that drives the action. Director Sita Calvert-Ennals, who co-devises with Perry, creates moments of real theatricality in a small space that lends itself to a story about the surveillance of individuals.

Writing monologue is difficult, especially a text-heavy piece chock-full of ambiguity and tangential stories. Taylor controls the bleed of revelations as we gradually learn that strangers know more about Finn than even he does. This works well, although the final scene does pile on the consequences, going beyond the natural ‘end’, and arguably could benefit from a little editing.

Yet, this is a smart, original play that asks: how much do you really want to know about the people you think you know?

Taylor also tells us to beware. Every insignificant thing we do leaves a footprint, every piece of intercepted information reveals evidence of something we might rather keep to ourselves. Oh, and you should change that Freudian password on your Nectar Card.

solo[solo] continues at Bristol Old Vic Basement until Sunday 23 November. For more info and to book tickets, visit http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/solosolo.html

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