The Vault’s 2017 theatre festival hosts a 2016 Edinburgh Fringe show this weekend. An exploration of human relationships – romantic, platonic, familiar, and intrapersonal – and how we escape them, This Must Be the Place follows two stories combined by these themes of missed connections. Despite opaque plotting and a few moments which felt oversimplified, the everyday humanity shown in the characters’ struggles creates one hour of beauty.
There are two stories shown here; while it is slightly unclear if they overlap or not (an unfortunate confusion for the audience), treating them as separate cases does not diminish their validity or power. The first follows Adam and his partner Lily; when Adam finds out about the death of his estranged father, his understanding of the world, his relationships, and himself unravel. The second follows Tate and Matty – lifelong friends working a shady hometown job and contemplating the former’s impending departure to London. Throughout both are interwoven meditations on social media, London and country life, and the façades maintained in everyday life. References to Facebook always got a knowledgeable laugh, but some of the latter tops were handled in a heavy handed fashion.
A striking production decision is the use of handheld microphones at all times except in one incredibly vulnerable moment. This frames the story as a self-aware conversation – effective in combining audience addresses with character interactions – and the wires crossing the stage as they speak, move, and interact is a poignant, tangible reminder of their innate interconnectedness. Aside from this tech, the set is stripped bare aside from a bench at the back, the lighting barely changes, and the only sound effects are the noises of cars and city life – choices which keep the focus on the characters’ stories. Another effective move is performing Adam’s voicemail live instead of having a recording; this makes the human connection – barely missed – palpable.
The cast are all fully committed to the show, and it is remarkable to note that, in a show with 98% of the dialogue spoken into microphones, there is not awkward breath, mistimed line, or instance of static. James Cooney shows Adam’s pain and confusion subtly, usually through realistic moments of callousness or lashing out. However, Adam’s dialogue about human connection feels contrived at points, unfortunately lessening sympathy for the character through no fault of the actor. Molly Roberts brings a luminous desperation to Lily, and one clearly feels the frustration when she is looking for her missing partner. Sadly, she is given little else to do aside from react to Adam’s issues, and this lack of character development stands out among the others. Feliks Mathur plays Tate as the straight man of his duo, bringing a classic buddy movie feel to his part. Lastly, Hamish Rush’s ebullient Matty bounces effortlessly off Tate’s more subdued energy but portrays the latent fear and insecurities in the friendship. The natural banter between these two characters is exceptional.
While the piece misses some opportunities due to the unclear plotting, it is a strong, engaging, and memorable work.
This Must Be the Place is playing at the Vaults (Leake Street, SE1 7NN) until 12th Febuary, with performances Friday-Sunday at 19.45 and an additional matinee at 16.30 on Saturday. Tickets cost £12.
Cast: Feliks Mathur, Molly Roberts, Hamish Rush, James Cooney
Director: Justin Audibert
Writers: Brad Birch, Kenneth Emson