Review: Truthspeak

Image credit: NS Newsflash

Truthspeak is a double bill of short-plays, linked by the key concept of difficult and painful truths: No Comment by Guy Clark and A Civilised Society by Ellen Robertson. The first is concerned with journalistic integrity, the second with the eternal truths behind society’s failure to tackle homelessness. Truth should not be a relative concept. However, as these plays demonstrate, emotional ‘truths’ are often far more ‘true’ than facts and statistics.

No Comment, which made the shortlist in the National Theatre’s new writing competition New Views 2012, is more conventional in its treatment of the thorny issues behind journalism. Clark claims to have takeninspiration primarily from a day-long work experience placement with The Independent and it is somewhat difficult to accept that such a brief exposure could produce so strong and so plausible a production. Despite the huge difference between a national and a student paper, it feels as if Clark has here captured a ‘truth’ about the hectic, stressful world of journalism that even resonates here in Cambridge. The concluding twist skilfully emphasises the difficulty of a concept such as ‘truth’. The latter half of this piece had good narrative reason to be rushed.

Nevertheless, I was left unsatisfied and wanting more in terms of the main character’s emotional development. The acting sometimes fell flat, and thereby failed to fully realise an otherwise strong piece. Yaseen Kader and Chris Born, although much stronger in the second half, did not seem to fit their roles especially well; their emotions at times seemed superficial and uncertain.

Both Tris Hobson and Kay Dent powerfully portrayed weakness. Clark’s acting role in his piece is relatively small, but he gives a very strong performance as the complete antithesis of this fragility. Although A Civilised Society calls for fewer characters, the use of interesting plot devices means that here too there is great variety and versatility of roles and emotions, allowing the actors to display their range.

During the interval the room is overturned and moves away completely from conventional seating arrangements. Although this change initially appeared slightly contrived, it works fantastically with the second piece which, in dealing with the very visible yet often ignored issue of homelessness, breaks away from theatrical conventions. In the words of director Elle Ramel, this arrangement ensures the actors are “not constrained” by the stage. Staged in this way, Roberton’s play focuses our attention on the experience of homelessness and the inadequacy of all styles of politics to address this continual problem.

Ramel consulted with the local homeless charity FLACK on the play to ensure that it was sensitive to this important issue. Seats are kept aside each night for the writers and artists working with this charity: this is a production keen to get as close to the truth as possible.

Despite not matching up entirely, the productions together are moving and thought-provoking. A potentially risky showcase of new writing, tackling key and controversial issues, has not failed to deliver.

Truthspeak is on at the Pembroke New Cellars at 9.30pm, 5-9 February.

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