20 February 2011

Beachy Head at Jacksons Lane

Normally with my theatre reviews I describe the show and lead up to a conclusion but this time I'll start with the summary to make sure you get there.

Beachy Head is one of the very best things I have ever seen in a theatre.

Having made that bold claim I'll try and justify it.

Jacksons Lane is a long way from home but it's next door to Highgate underground station so it's fairly easy to get to. I came across it only recently through my Czech/Slovak connections and I went there to see e Slovak Dance Theatre perform their version of Carmen. That was good too. And that was enough to sign up for the Jacksons Lane newsletter which is how I heard about Beachy Head.

The clincher was the video clip that the newsletter pointed me to.

This seemed like just the sort of quirky and innovative production that I like so it was quickly booked.

Arriving straight from work I took advantage of the neat cafe and reception area to have a panini and the traditional bottle of Becks (often the only drinkable beer at theatres).

Fed and watered it was time to grab a good seat for the show.

The play opens with a Doctor talking to camera with her back to the audience with the picture projected on the back of the stage so that we could see here. Things got a little weirder when I could see myself in that picture.

The doctor tells us about suicides and so the scene is set.

The story revolves around a suicide at Beachy Head that is accidentally captured on film by some film makers planning on doing something on lighthouses. They decide that the short clip of the man's leap would make a good centre point of a film and so, after some agonising, they try to find out more.

That brings them in touch with the young widow who is (understandably) struggling to come to terms with her loss and sees working with the film makers as a way of helping her. They do not tell her that they have the film of her husband and that leads to further tensions.

The doctor returns as the dispassionate voice of reason talking first to the wife and then to the film makers. This device works very well to both provide as with information, much as a narrator would, and also to provide moments or respite from the
high emotion of the story.

At first we see the husband as just a memory, a ghost even, that the wife sees around the house doing the familiar things she is used to him doing.

The story then proceeds in several directions, or times, simultaneously. We see the development of the film which shows us more of the past while the Doctor adds her detail from time to time.

The tension grows as we learn more about the husband through a story he was writing and he starts to appear more to tell his side of things.

There is one particularly dramatic scene where the husband calls the Samaritans from the cliff top. The dialogue is convincing and depressing. We know how it ends.

The play ends as it started with the doctor talking to us quietly and calmly and suddenly the emotion has nowhere else to go except in rapturous applause for a stunning performance.

Some of the expected pyrotechnics promised by the video were delivered and they added something to the show but they were never became the point, that was left to the story.

So, a sympathetic story about suicide turned out to be surprisingly wonderful on many levels and gelled in to a truly remarkable and memorable experience.

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