Tuesday, 4 April 2017

REVIEW: Escape the Scaffold at Theatre503

With an opening scene that seems an open reference to Hideo Nakata's horror film Ringu, Escape the Scaffold confirms the thriving collaboration between playwright Titas Halder and director Hannah Price. Earlier this year, their work on Halder's debut play Run the Beast Down at the Finborough Theatre received four stars from The Independent, Time Out and the Stage, with all the critics agreeing on the talent of the playwright and Price's original direction, which included a live DJ set throughout the performance. Consolidating this prolific partnership, Escape the Scaffold demonstrates the ability of the award-winning director to regale life, sounds and colours to the nightmarish script on the relationship of three university best friends.

'We're not friends.' says Marcus (Charles Reston) to his former housemate Aaron (Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge), when they meet again five years later. 'We used to be friends. We were only friends because we were in the same place at the same time' he adds. Charles Reston is remarkable in the challenging role of Marcus, which is depicted as a judgemental young man who gradually becomes a sly and manipulative husband. His wife – and former housemate – Grace (Rosie Sheehy) is a weak and eternally undecided artist-wannabe, who shares many views on society and politics with the activist and troublemaker Aaron. Once again reunited in the house they used to share in their university years, the three characters bring depth to this two-hour long drama, where water is slowly filling the basement and darkness relentlessly creeping into their minds.

The well-choreographed transitions between scenes – and the relative adjustments to the set – become a natural part of the performance and often are fast-forward sequences where the action leaps between past and present. This is particularly helpful in the second half, which feels less polished and harder to position along the storyline. The reference to an organisation whose name never gets mentioned is quite confusing, yet crucial to fully understand the plot.

DJ Chris Bartholomew's electronic score – in this case pre-recorded – offers both an accompaniment and an occasional pause from the events, adding to the unsettling tone of the play. The walls of Mark Bailey's highly functional and elaborate set offer a visual counterpart to the cracks that emerge in the relationship between Marcus, Grace and Aaron. Whereas the almost-supernatural danger that haunts the house is suggested by Katy Morison's clever lighting, thanks to a violet glow that seeps in from the basement's door
frame and the living room's floorboards.

Relying heavily on the different aspects of the design to build tension, Escape the Scaffold is a gripping psychological thriller, appropriately supported by an amazing cast and brilliant production values. If the second part had delivered the same clarity and level of engagement of the first, I would have happily given it full stars. 

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★
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