Stonecrabs’ festival ‘Stomping Ground’ is all about providing a platform for new directors to explore the craft – and this celebration of novelty was met fittingly with a production of Kate Tempest’s ballsy, current play Wasted. Beth Kapila’s slick, energetic and minimalist production kicked off the festival, and while the overall vision was a little tentative, credit is due for a sensitively performed piece whose director clearly valued an authentic relationship with the audience, skilfully capturing a realistic yet heartwarming tone that kept us on side throughout.
It is testament to both the actors’ effortless command of the stage and intuitive direction that moments of humour in the text came off well – the characters’ construction was such that the audience could easily lapse into warm laughter at any point, even in some of the sadder contexts. Chioma Anywanwu, Ludovic Hughes, and Jack Boswell evidently had a strong group chemistry, pulling off shared slam poetry sections with slick timing, even if the deeper levels of their interactions were sometimes painted with broader strokes. The standout performance, however, came from Hughes, whose painfully beautiful monologue to the characters’ deceased friend Tony proved the high point of the production. His depiction of Danny perfectly captured an energy that constantly bubbled just underneath the surface, and manifested itself in various, often destructive ways throughout the play, reflecting the deeply felt frustrations with ordinary life so integral to Tempest’s writing. Despite the character’s flaws, Hughes showed us a Danny whose sparkling warmth struggled through even in his darkest times, making it impossible not to feel his pain as he talked to his absent friend in a greasy spoon café.
Despite these strengths, it seems the overall vision was played a little safe: the characters and their distinctive quirks had evidently been explored in depth, but it felt as if there were bolder decisions waiting in the wings that never made their appearance. The space demanded a minimalistic approach, which gave Tempest’s words the importance and breathing space they needed, but much of the movement and sound during transitions felt somewhat restrained and cliché – it may have been more exciting to make simpler but bolder choices. Moments of highly stylised movement felt unnecessary and jarred with the rest of the vision. Furthermore, I felt there was much more scope to explore the emotional complexity of the relationship between Charlotte and Danny, their interactions appearing a little superficial; a minimal approach would ostensibly give way to greater attention to the characters’ relationships, but this was slightly lacking in depth. Speaking the chorus sections out to the audience in a row, in the most simple fashion possible, was undoubtedly effective – but in light of a script which allows actors to completely break character and leaves minimal stage directions, unexplored potential seemed to hang in the air.
It was also a shame that the ending of the last scene before the final chorus section was slightly rushed, the silence after important words broken too soon. The chorus ending is admittedly difficult to pitch, with its unashamedly life-affirming tone putting actors at risk of slipping into cheesiness – but the use of uplifting music really was a bit much, somewhat negating the gorgeously bittersweet realism of the preceding scenes. It would have perhaps been bolder to let the now characterless actors speak the final words into silence, without smothering their connection with the audience with sound.
While there may have been more colour and nuance to be found in a text as poetic as Tempest’s Wasted, Beth Kapila has directed an energetic and engaging production that didn’t need much adornment to grip us and draw out the raw beauty of the play. Being a new director, Kapila may have hidden a little behind tropes, or a feeling of obligation to stylise or simplify in arbitrary ways, but this production is a promising start that deserves credit for its heart and warmth.
Cast: Chioma Anywanwu, Ludovic Hughes, and Jack Boswell