at the National Student Drama Festival, Sunday 10th April 2011
We are constantly told that society is a dog-eat-dog world in which we have to do all we can to get to the top. We must deceive, manipulate and destroy to achieve our goals under capitalism and it brings out the worst in all of us. Israel Horovitz’ Line, presented by Unwish Theatre, attempts to explore some deep existential themes, but under the direction of Jonathan Carr ends up being little more than wildly irritating.
Five people wait in a line. À la Beckett, for what or for who we are never told, but they are all determined to get to the front nonetheless. Their personal struggles form the narrative drive of the play, but in between these moments of drama Horovitz tries to develop the characters through use of a side-line narrative which concerns the four men’s relationship with the only woman in the line. These monologues and conversations take away from rather than add to the main thrust of the text, and serve only to make us feel bored.
Line is the sort of play that could get its message across in twenty minutes, and indeed by this point we feel like we’ve seen everything anyway. Some aspects of the staging, including the use of dance as a replacement for lovemaking and an almost hideously dramatic conclusion, feel to jar with the tone of the rest of the play, although as the line disintegrates into chaos we are given a snippet of this company at its best.
The performances are all solid, though none stand out. Ryan Lane as Arnall is confused and weak, and is shown in contrast to Louis Lunts’ cocksure Dolan. As the only female in the ensemble, Molly, Veronica Hare carries much of the narrative force, but doesn’t show sufficient justification for being unfaithful to Arnall. Dan Wood’s Flemming is perhaps the clearest character, showing someone who means well with a thoughtful performance. Chris White’s Stephen, who speaks the most lines in the play, shows a neurotic and Machiavellian teen, but seems too considered; too much effort is given to ‘performance’ and not enough to motivation.
Unwish Theatre cope well carrying the energy through a play which feels far too long, but don’t inject enough emotion into the intervening moments to capture the audience’s attention. It is difficult to care when, for the most part, each and every character is the sort of person we would walk away from a conversation with. This is ostensibly a comment from Horovitz on the nature of capitalism, and while I wouldn’t disagree with the sentiment, Line is never more than an overdeveloped play based on a good initial idea.