Columns is a witty, complex work investigating parental relationships. Written, directed and performed by Laura Day and Alexander Hartley, it combines varied modes of storytelling with recorded audio from the rehearsal process to relay the tale of Sophie (Day) attempting to help Joe (Hartley), whose parents have mysteriously disappeared. It is a tight story, filled with connection and coincidence, nicely balanced between packing in twists and not over-complicating the plot. The script contains quirks of phrasing that work well to create a gently absurd world – ‘muck’ and ‘grit’ used as swear words, for example – and there are several passages which manage to keep the off-beat perspective whilst still being beautiful and honest.
The piece works best when mixing different styles of storytelling, such as the introduction of Sophie switching between different narrative viewpoints. This technique lifts what could be a straightforward work into a more fun and engaging format. The set is similarly multi-faceted (quite literally), with boxes turned and stacked in different combinations to display different locales.
A key part of this smorgasbord of styles is recordings from rehearsals and other discussions. Never self-indulgent or exclusive, these sections are one of the most interesting parts of Columns, introducing the audience to how the work was created. Overall, these interjections provide a rare chance to see a part of the development process rarely depicted onstage.
It is when one style of storytelling (often third person narration) is used for a longer period of time that the play begins to feel less fresh and engaging. Both the set up and the performers are charming and welcoming, interacting with the audience in a laid-back and easy way, but trying to maintain such an atmosphere for extended periods introduces the danger of it starting to feel forced and borderline patronising, as the tone begins to resemble that of a children’s TV presenter. While this could work as part of the combining of presentation styles if made more exaggerated, in the current form it broke the atmosphere of casual familiarity. In a similar vein, despite the multi-roling being creative and often used well for comic effect – for example when Hartley’s Irish character is backed with a recording of him being taught the accent – the physical and vocal characteristics of each character could have been further explored.
The Wax House create a warm environment which looks after its audience while still challenging them both ethically and stylistically. Some parts of the execution could use more polishing, but as it stands it’s a show full of exciting and original ideas.
Columns is on until 26 August 2017 at theSpace on the Mile. Click here for more details.