Review: 13 Objects

Joe Richards 9 March 2017

13 Objects is an odd little play. A series of vignettes ranging from the very short and very funny to the overlong and somewhat bizarre, it aims to critique our fetishistic attachment to the everyday objects that make up our world. It’s a strong premise, but unfortunately becomes a little laboured in Howard Barker’s script, and this Pembroke Players production doesn’t consistently manage to bring it to life.

The piece certainly started strongly. Eve Gatenby and Isabelle Higgins’ direction is lively and creative, and an opening vignette with a spade brings out the dark humour of the piece well, not least down to an extremely assured performance from Shimali De Silva. Indeed, De Silva stands out throughout the production as a confident, varied and genuinely funny performer, with an excellent knack for characterisation that is at once comic, dark and absurd. A particularly strong performance comes in her role as the Girl Queen, which captures perfectly the petulance and facetiousness of the character and drew genuine laughter from the audience.

De Silva’s strength clearly lies in her range and the variety of her performance, but unfortunately this is an attribute that is not consistent across the production. The performances and direction which made the opening of the piece successful are maintained throughout, but there is a lack of variety to the direction which means the piece simply appears to be recycling the same tricks that, whilst they may have been successful for one or two vignettes, quickly become repetitive and a little laboured.

In part, this is down to Barker’s script, which reuses the same devices and conceits over and over. However, it is a shame that this production does little to counter this and thus breathes no more life into the script, particularly its latter end, than it has on the page. The performers do make a valiant effort with this script: Alex Franklin is energetic, if a little garbling at times, and Grace Etheredge captures well the highly-strung characters she is given, though it is a shame that she was not given a greater range of characters to better showcase her own range.

The production design was also strong, particularly the projections, though these could have been used more consistently. The props, so key to this production, were well-sourced and successfully evocative. This was a slick production which had been well put together, and features a largely successful and clearly talented cast. Had the direction shown greater variety, it could also have been a highly successful one. As it was though, the piece became cyclical and repetitive and by the end simply wasn’t engaging anymore. 13 Objects is a promising production, but ultimately one that struggles to break free of the constraints of Barrker’s script.