Antler Theatre, C on Chambers Street, Dan Ainsworth, Daniela Pasquini, Edinburgh Fringe, Jasmine Woodcock-Stewart, Jess Stone, Louise Trigg, Nasi Voutsas, Richard Perryman, Theatre Review, This Way Up
It is one of those stock anecdotes which are shared amongst parents. You spend a small fortune on the latest must-have Christmas present for your toddler. On Christmas day, they will give this prestigious item a single uninterested glance, before becoming massively engrossed in the cardboard box which it came in. You can only laugh.
It is much the same with Antler Theatre’s “This Way Up,” which is presently established at C on Chamber’s Street. We find this play immediately discarding the big, flashy themes which it has unwrapped. It is a story about an arts graduate who ends up working in a call centre. Most of the artsy sorts in this Fringe audience will need no introduction to the heady issues of youth unemployment, falling living standards, and the devaluation of university education. Yet we will only ever fool around with the box – or boxes, as it happens. The play’s impressive premise will be consigned to a lonely corner.
For Antler Theatre, a pile of cardboard boxes can become anything. An entire working call centre or a hushed studio art gallery. A better music video for “Space Oddity” than the one which Bowie had made himself. There is some exhilarating clown material – punchy visual jokes in which boxes lurch to life by themselves and two men and a box are made into a giant.
The cast, incidentally, are not merely here to assist the boxes. Daniela Pasquini submits a well-judged performance as the disenchanted graduate Alex. Nasi Voutsas is as cute as a little squirrel in playing Alex’s friend-with-benefits Mark, who sings weedy songs with a ukulele accompaniment and fantasises about becoming an astronaut. There is a raging competition amongst the rest of the cast to be the star of the show, but Richard Perryman ultimately wins as the dopey party boy Bensy.
“This Way Up” was purportedly authored between the cast, although Pasquini is credited as the original creative force on the Stage website. The cast are graduates (ironically enough) from the Essex East 15 acting school, which has launched several of this year’s Fringe shows. Tychy has previously reviewed Luke Clarke’s “Sealand,” commending the comedy but deeming the more serious aspects of the play to be weak. If Jess(ica) Stone and Dan(iel) Ainsworth turn up in both “Sealand” and “This Way Up,” the latter play achieves a more sophisticated synthesis of the comic and the not-so-comic.
The play is a safe, happy place. Everything sad has been banished from the stage, and it is probably lurking about by the stage door, gloomily smoking a fag. Yet some echo of its melancholy footsteps still reaches us – the pacing may resonate faintly, even inaudibly, but we cannot wholly drown it in the laughter. Mark’s solution of floating off into space is not a solution. There are no viable careers waiting in call centres. Alex’s “art” is still only a hobby by the end of the play. Perhaps we have seen our own increasingly frightening lives being made safe and silly through the magic of these clowns, but our lives will be waiting as normal when the lights come back on.