Thursday, May 5, 2016
'Chaser' at the Lion & Unicorn, 4th May 2016
Thursday, May 5, 2016 by londoncitynights
Chaser is a classic example of a play that bites off more than it can chew. Ostensibly a story about a stalker's jealous observations of a married couple, it ends up tossing pretty much every dramatic technique it can think of onto the stage - from stream of consciousness to mime to tap dancing.
The play opens with John (Richard Dawes), perched in his birdwatching 'hide'. He launches into a disconnected babble about life, birds and human contact (among other things). It's chaotic, though the upshot is clearly that all is not right with this man. Cut to stage right, where we meet Antonia (Laura Meaton), the object of his affection, currently engaged in a sexually charged conversation about iced buns with her sex worker friend Sarah (Lowenna Melrose).
The trio gradually intertwine. John observes Sarah being paid for sex by Sam (Antonia's never-seen husband); John passively woos Antonia via a series of fake online personae; Sarah advises Antonia to break up with Sam; and John pays for Sarah's sexual services. As you'd expect, this all comes to a dramatic, emotional head in the final act.
I can't fault Chaser for its ambition, but it's a wildly undisciplined bit of playwriting. Careening from stream of consciousness interior monologue, to Mamet-esque stichomythia, to mime, to surreal comedy, to dance and so on obscures the characters and renders a relatively straightforward narrative needlessly confusing. In a best case scenario, a play that quickly cycles between disparate styles creates a distancing effect that a playwright can use to their advantage. Sadly, in Chaser, the technique feels like a smokescreen for lack of confidence in character and story.
Having said all that, the performers come out of this relatively unscathed. Meaton, Dawes, Meaton and Melrose all acquit themselves well, though there's a sense that they're scrabbling through the gimmicky styles in order to find the emotional core of their characters. Meaton achieves this best, briefly attaining focus as a woman torn between dull security and the unknown. Melrose is hamstrung by playing a pretty flimsy cheeky sex worker archetype, but at least she puts her comedic chops to good use. Dawes suffers the worst from the stylistic switches - settling for an eager-to-please obliviousness that doesn't develop past the opening monologue.
Chaser is the inaugural work of playwright Howard Thompson and I feel a certain guilt in laying into a first time playwright, but it's an undeniably crappy play. There's nothing inherently wrong with throwing in everything except the kitchen sink, but it's got to be in service of something. Ultimately, Chaser feels like the work of someone fresh out of drama school who's determined to use every dramatic technique in the book at once.
Chaser is at the Lion & Unicorn until 14 May. Tickets here.