From one extreme to the other, 4Front Performance Company’s return to the Drill Hall stage on Thursday, April 15th, gave the Lincoln audience an overwhelming display of both comedy and tragedy.
The evening consisted of two contrasting plays called “Idol Chat” and “Red Betrayal”. The former – a comedy – focused on the after life of 50s pin-up model Bettie Page, and the latter – a tragedy – centred on two Russian friends living under the regime of Joseph Stalin.
In a recent interview with The Linc, 4Front’s artistic director, Darren Furniss, said of “Idol Chat”: “What goes on in the comedy can be perceived as quite insane and has a lot of insane moments.” And “insane” it was.
It was a bizarre 45 minutes of theatre set in a purgatory-like departure lounge where five idols are awaiting to be sent to either heaven or hell. There’s a mixture of famous faces, as Page is joined by Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Billy the Kid, and Adolf Hitler. It was immediately clear from the melodramatic Monroe character that this play wasn’t to be taken seriously and bearing that in mind, there were some good performances.
Though lacking in taste much of the time, the characters of Billy the Kid and Hitler were certainly amusing and Liam Gregory, who played Billy the Kid, mastered the southern American accent and came across very professionally.
However, there were inconsistencies with the characters’ personalities and questionable plot details. In her fame days, Bettie Page was a sex-symbol and known for her provocative poses in front of the camera, yet in the play when she was invited to ‘spank’ Hitler, she wore the face of innocence and inexperience.
The script unfortunately didn’t have a solid plot and for much of the play it seemed like random sketches had been put together for comic effect. The lack of story line didn’t allow 4Front to fully characterise each personality and so for the most part, it was just slapstick.
However, along with the mood, the set was rearranged for the second play “Red Betrayal”, which was the opposite of the first half in almost every way. The use of multimedia was extremely effective, having a huge screen projecting images of Stalin and his Red Army which transported the stage and the audience immedaitely to Russia.
The character development was far better, with strong performances from nearly all the cast. The script was clearly thought through and every word was meaningful, which captured the audience’s attention and made for really weighty performances from the two main characters.
There were many chilling moments in “Red Betrayal”, helped with the use of lighting which was constantly dark and matched with the themes of fear and terror. The stage was far bigger and created a sense of tension as the audience were unaware of where characters were when the stage was in the dark – making formidable entrances from the army believable.
Perhaps the younger relationship between the two protagonists could have been developed more to make the tragic ending even more effective. Having said that though, the quality of acting made up for it and ensured that the audience sympathised with the characters’ situations. The strong sense of empathy made the closing scene, where the two friends come face-to-face after deceit had torn them apart, harrowing, and memorable.
4Front’s determination to be creative and innovative was once again made clear. Once the second half began, the audience saw why this performance group is one to watch in the future.Tweet