Incognito/Peddling/The Girl’s Guide to Saving the World
Nick Payne’s new play, Incognito, is a superb dissection of memory and identity. Two narratives intersect with one another, jumping from time and place with the same stylish skill as his award-winning Constellations.
Metaphysical questions about the self clash with black and white scientific principles in a script that sits within the grey areas of human experience and presents each viewpoint with crystalline clarity. The tragedy of amnesia and the absurdity of personal obsessions are explored with wit and pathos.
Isobel Waller-Bridge’s synaptic sound design crackles and pops in short bursts shocking us from one scene into the next. Fittingly for a play about the human brain Oliver Townsend’s metallic frame outlines out a cranial space for this virtuosic cast to play in.
Joe Murphy’s impressive production sees a fine cast jumping from character to character and between polarised emotional states with ease.
Meanwhile, Harry Melling, who played Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films, was making an exhilarating debut as a writer back at The Cut, the festival’s hub, with Peddling.
This is a solo piece in which Melling also stars as a troubled young offender selling domestic items door to door. His performance is at times one of a person possessed; it’s a raw, intense and exposing piece and, for a solo show, it’s far from static, with Melling’s pedlar trapped in a mesh cage, pacing his small patch of earth, the ceiling pressing in on him. Stripped and sweating, curls cropped, dirt clinging to his back like a black bird, he rages at a broken world that has no room for him in it. The play itself is a pounding rhythmic thing, an exercise in urban poetry, but Melling’s performance is the making of it. Lily Arnold’s design, while owing a debt to Oliver Townsend’s grey box for Grounded, is effectively oppressive and brilliantly serves Steven Atkinson’s compelling production.
Elinor Cook won last year’s George Devine Award and has previously written for companies including non zero one. Her play, The Girl’s Guide to Saving the World, is receiving its world premiere at HighTide. It begins as a rage against the machine of everyday sexism only to mutate into something more pedestrian. Jane and Toby’s relationship flounders as they ponder the power dynamics between them, both economic and sexual, and the impact that having a child might have on their lives. Cook is at her best when writing sharp, almost list-like monologues, speeches that grow in potency as they develop, but she isn’t quite able to stitch them into a satisfying whole and the play feels underdeveloped and unengaging, the characters mouthpieces rather than people.
The fourth of the festival’s headline shows is Michael Boyd’s production of Dan LeFranc’s award-winning The Big Meal, a polished if rather heavy-handed American family drama spanning five generations, which premiered at the Ustinov Studio in Bath last month.
While the four HighTide productions form the spine of the festival, there are also a series of major interviews with figures including David Hare and Michael Gambon, as well as readings of new work. These include I’m Not Here Right Now by the Verity Bargate award-winning Thomas Eccleshare, and Every Breath, the debut play by acclaimed Australian director Benedict Andrews, who is soon to direct Gillian Anderson in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic.
Honour Bayes/Natasha Tripney
- HighTide Theatre Festival, Halesworth
- April 10-19
- Authors: Nick Payne/Harry Melling/Elinor Cook
- Directors: Joe Murphy/Steven Atkinson/Amelia Sears
- Producers: Nabokov, Live Theatre Newcastle/HighTide Festival Theatre
- Cast includes: Paul Hickey, Amelia Lowdell, Alison O’Donnell, Sargon Yelda Incognito. Harry Melling Peddling. Jade Williams, Georgina Strawson, Ben Lambert The Girl’s Guide to Saving the World