A wide Awake disaster - but I will never tire of Fringe

Review by Paul Nelson


IT IS too glib to make remarks like this show could not keep me awake, and even worse to use the almost closing line of the first act which virtually urges one to leave. The show Awake, at the Union Theatre is a monumental disaster but, and I have seen monumental disasters before, tries harder than most.

It deals with an area of the mind which several members of the cast are experiencing. And it produces a Limbo where insomniacs, usually lonely creatures, have found a collective, naturally within their minds, where they can meet like-minded desperate people.

Focussing on Simon, who has the most dreary job anyone could envisage, and is a frustrated artist with drawing block (not my pun), we are taken on an excursion which has nothing but doom and gloom until he decides to take his life and the first act ends with him alternately popping pills and throwing down neat vodka.

Up to this point, there has been not a glimmer of hope and the play is threadbare regarding vocabulary and imagination. Strangely, it is during this act that the most effective use of music (it is billed as a play but bursts into the odd number now and then) through a song which I assume is called Never So Alone makes an effort to catch fire.

The second act, the suicide bid having failed, becomes a much better stab at entertainment. For a good 10 minutes one felt one had actually at last cracked the shell of the play, but alas, it keeps on falling into deep holes filled with dank water which prevent the play from soaring above its limitations, which for a few minutes or even more, I was convinced it had managed so to do.

In spite of a superhuman effort from Steve Cornthwaite, an actor whose career I intend to watch given half a chance, and Jacqueline Wood, who also knows exactly what she is doing, the remaining cast flounder about in a mire, which even if they could have acted their way out of it, would have defeated them in the long run.

The play challenges too many ideas, throws up too many unanswered questions, and is finally overwhelming in the spaces it creates in an enquiring mind. Naturally, not having read a script, its fleeting moment in the theatre has to say it all. This it fails to do because of its wordiness and frantic dashing about between scenes. When a scene is presented that could explain reams of ideas, and just as you settle down to listen to them, it loses its impetus and the sight of its target.

I love the Union Theatre. It has balls, which cannot be said about most Fringe theatres scared about their meagre box office take. Like it or not, you have to take your hat off to whoever decided to give this oddity space. Whatever I ultimately thought of the play, I could not have left the auditorium until it was over.

Take from this what you wish and go to see what I am talking about. The Union needs you, indeed Fringe Theatre needs you, and I doubt you will ever get this kind of experiment anywhere else.

As a footnote, I would like to moan (yet again) that the programme should list not only the musical numbers but also the artists who present them. It makes one's life so much easier.

Guide to pictures: Main picture features: Eloise Howe (Laura) and Steve Cornthwaite (Simon), while above, right, features Kit Smith (Jim/Office Worker/Steve) and Jacqueline Wood (Chantal/Office Worker/Sophie/Counsellor).

Awake by Adam Kimmel, Music, Kenny Reid, Directed by Jane D Clarke, Designed by Charlie Cridlan, Lighting Design Steve Miller, Sound Tony Clarke, WITH: Steve Cornthwaite (Simon), Amy Hylton (Dawn), Paul Oliver (Compere), Jacqueline Wood (Chantal, Office Worker, Sophie, Counsellor), Kit Smith (Jim, Office Worker, Steve), Eloise Howe (Laura). Presented by The Black Box Theatre Company at the Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, London SE1. Tickets (Until November 30) 020 7621 9876.