In Tents and Purposes

By Viscera Theatre

Wednesday 26th April, York Theatre Royal

 

Some excellent Edinburgh Fringe reviews including the promise of a laugh-out-loud funny, clever, female-led hour of silliness seduced me enough to drag DanielManiel to the Theatre Royal on a chilly mid-week night in April; and we weren’t disappointed.

A time-hopping tale that follows the course of two close friends’ lives over the span of a decade after an encounter with a fortune-teller at a festival, this show explores the nature of fate and how our choices and attitudes affect our lives. One is told she will find love and success by the time she is thirty, the other financial ruin and an early death – how each woman responds to her fortune over the next ten years drives the show’s narrative and shapes its message.

An open tent, a flip chart showing the date and two cooler boxes of props make up the entirety of the set, in a move that could have come off a little A level drama were it not so cleverly handled by set-change interludes in which the actors broke the fourth wall and tongue-in-cheek-ly explained their ‘process’ – well, one more enthusiastically than the other – in what I’m going to call ‘meta-meta-theatre’ (#someta). These interludes made for a refreshing tonal shift that didn’t jar as much as I would expect, and provided the show with a depth and additional character development which I think would have been missing without them.

The story was engaging and well written; Roxy Dunn has done an incredible job of writing two well-developed characters – the types you feel like you know in your own life – and taking them on a journey that is hilarious and charming, yes, but is ultimately completely believable and relatable. But the real magic is in the character work and the chemistry between the two women. Both actors are fantastic; Alys Metcalf plays the ultimate comic to Dunn’s cynical straight (wo)man, with both complementing the other in performances that felt natural and spirited. For me, Metcalf stole the show with her physical comedy – her antics, accents and mimes had me silently shaking with laughter (that’s when you know the giggles have taken me) several times throughout the show and I think the memory of her miming riding a bike will forever make me titter.

My only criticism of In Tents and Purposes would be that during the very last few scenes of the play, the ‘message’ might have come across a tad…blatant. I think by the end, the piece had done a good enough job of exploring its themes and the differences between the two characters that it didn’t need spelling out. However, I hasten to add that this didn’t make the play any less of a delight, it didn’t impact my thorough enjoyment of it from beginning to end and I wouldn’t recommend it any less.

 

Summary: A charming and riotous time-travelling tale about fate and friendship, littered with memorable moments and glued together by two stellar performances. And if you happen to have a penchant for comedy mime and silly voices like I do, then you’ll love it all the more.

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