Writer: Michelle Ashton
Director: Karl Barnsley
Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin
The Public Reviews Rating:
Nexus Art Cafe is a kooky, arts-community focused in Manchester’s Northern Quarter and it was transformed into a theatre for Messy Dress’s production of Fine. It makes quite a good fringe venue; loads of seating including some very comfy sofas, a long raised stage, lighting and sound, and great hot drinks served from the cafe counter. The presence of a giant papier maché mouse lurking in the corner of the stage area was particularly enjoyable, although sadly it went unreferenced in the play.
Fine examined the effort we all seem to go through in order to show an outward performance of normality and coping with the world – how many times when asked “How are you?” you have automatically answered “Fine.” even if it couldn’t be further from the truth. The majority of Fine is set in a school counsellor’s office where troubled 15yr old student Lucy has been referred. Michelle Ashton has done a good job in capturing that slightly bizarre relationship in a counsellor’s office – the intimacy and confidence and yet there always remains a professional distance and relationship. We discover that the counsellor, Will, has problems of his own which gradually invade his work environment, and subsequently his working relationship with Lucy.
The performances by Michelle Ashton and Jog Maher were strong and subtle, both of them seemed comfortable within their character’s skin and they held our trust and confidence as an audience. Michelle Ashton gave a sterling performance as Lucy, allowing her performance to be subtle rather than playing the crazy, she focused on the humanity, which was exactly what made Lucy interesting as a character.
The gradual development of scenes in the office across time was a nice demonstration of how Lucy & Will’s relationship altered as the power shifted; Lucy manages to extract private information from Will in exchange for her own confidences. And yet, there is always a sense that Lucy is dangerous and hiding her true self even in this place where she should relax and reveal. There are several slip-ups revealing possible lies she has told within the counsellor’s room and the character becomes more interesting as a consequence. The scene setting of counsellor’s room worked well, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere and the script held echoes of Mamet’s ‘Oleanna’ for me; two struggling, self-aware characters manipulating each other. The problem with this production was that it maybe didn’t create quite enough drama, despite being well-written and structured, there needed to be an escalation of conflict whether violent or psychological. It would have been preferable if all of the scenes had remained set in the counsellor’s office, that formal territory makes any informal behaviour more noticeable, dangerous and dramatic, and it would have held a stronger, stifling tension.
All in all, Fine is a strong piece of fringe theatre displaying some talented Manchester actors and new writing in a very comfy venue.