Reviews Exeter Published 7 March 2013

Aubade

Bike Shed Theatre ⋄ 23rd February – 9th March 2013

Darkness falls.

Belinda Dillon
Still life.

Still life.

Just as ‘unresting death’ is ever-present in Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Aubade’, so darkness lurks at the edges of Jon Welch’s sinister yet redemptive play of the same name. Mixing live action and film, Aubade tackles fear, loneliness, courage and trauma with honesty and wit, combining emotional depth, convincing dialogue and near-perfect pacing to create a piece of masterly storytelling that stays with you long after the darkness inevitably falls.

‘I work all day and get half-drunk at night’ wrote Larkin, and this is how we meet Fred Andrews: mid-life teacher in a failing school, jaded from daily battles with pupils and management targets, whose only armour – apart from wine – against the glare of his traumatic childhood and lonely life is escape into Fred Astaire films. But burying fears encourages them to grow, so from the moment Fred is assigned as mentor to young student teacher Alice Cooper, the unease begins its creeping advance. Soon, fantasies – Fred cast as Astaire, confident and suave, seducing Alice with romance and glamour – start seeping into reality until, ultimately, they become embodied in violence.

Both Benjamin Symes and Nix Wood give stand-out performances as Fred and Alice: he, conjuring tension by mixing humorous cynicism and awkwardness with a barely contained unpredictability; she, convincing as the insecure vicar’s daughter with high ideals about the transformative power of poetry who becomes a confident force for change. In fact, it’s only once Alice confronts the reality of death – an act of violence – that she finds the courage to face her own fear of rejection, enabling her to become the inspiring teacher she so longs to be, and that this final scene packs such a punch is testament to Wood’s skill. Their bête noire – a particularly challenging student called Tyler – is well played (all in filmed segments) by Matthieu Bethermin, who manages to convey the vulnerability necessary for us to sympathise with him while delivering the right amount of unpleasantness to create the uncertainty that underpins the major plot twist: from which source will the darkness eventually erupt?

Although the interactions between the live action and filmed sections are highly accomplished and very effective, the sound quality of the films themselves is the only element that lets Aubade down. Dialogue is either so muffled that it’s a strain to catch what characters are saying (particularly the scenes with the Headmaster, which also seem to take place in a cluttered broom cupboard rather than an imposing office, so lose points on that score also) or sound and visuals are infuriatingly out of sync. The overall effect is to pull you out of the narrative, and when the sections are particularly long – such as the clandestinely filmed scenes between Tyler and Alice – it becomes annoyingly disruptive to the flow and impacts negatively on an otherwise excellent production.

I wondered also how, given the revelations about his childhood and life that make the events in Aubade so convincing, Fred even gets as far as he does. Perhaps this is revealed in Aubade’s companion piece, Freddy Dare & The Ginger Robber, which explores young Freddy’s life following the death of his father and his mother’s descent into alcoholism? I’m looking forward to finding out.Just as ‘unresting death’ is ever-present in Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Aubade’, so darkness lurks at the edges of Jon Welch’s sinister yet redemptive play of the same name. Mixing live action and film, Aubade tackles fear, loneliness, courage and trauma with honesty and wit, combining emotional depth, convincing dialogue and near-perfect pacing to create a piece of masterly storytelling that stays with you long after the darkness inevitably falls.

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Belinda Dillon

Originally from London, Belinda is an editor and writer now living in Exeter. She goes to as much theatre as the day job will allow. When not sitting in the dark, or writing about sitting in the dark, she likes to drink wine, read 19th-century novels and practice taxidermy. Your cat is very beautiful. Is it old?

Aubade Show Info


Produced by Cube Essential Theatre

Directed by Jon Welch and David Lockwood

Written by Jon Welch

Cast includes Benjamin Symes, Nix Wood, Matthieu Bethermin, Rebecca Hulbert, Dominic Powers

Link http://www.bikeshedtheatre.co.uk/

Running Time 2 hours 15 minutes (including interval)

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