Off the Grid – ★★★★
By David Lane.
society/company: West End & Fringe
performance date: 11 Nov 2018
venue: Half Moon Theatre, 43 White Horse Road London E1 0ND (part of a UK tour)
This gritty two hander for 13+ explores difficult issues. Connor, 14 (Bradley Connor) and Kelly, 4 (Jesse Bateson) are abandoned by their parents. Connor determines to look after Kelly “off grid” without consulting or succumbing to any sort of authority. They have no income or source of food so they forage in bins and make up stories as form of emotional comfort. Eventually it all goes hideously wrong and they are separated, each with a very different outcome. Finally there’s a terrific scene at the end when he is 24 and she 14.
The story is told immersively with audience standing around the edge of this 60 minute show, sometimes being asked to hold things or to sit on the set. Guy Connelly’s sound track is key to the style of the production – sharp, harsh, raucous bursts of electronic sound seem, initially like technical errors, until you realise that they connote the disturbance and disruption in the thoughts and lives of the two main characters as well as acting as scene markers. There’s music too, including singing by both Bateson (lovely) and Connor (adequate but that’s probably the point.)
Connor as Connor (yes, that’s right) handles the oddly lyrical, idiolect David Lane gives him to speak with great conviction. The scenes between him and Bateson as Kelly are adeptly directed (by Chris Elwell) and very naturalistic – particularly the final one when she sensitively conveys the awkwardness Kelly is feeling along with warm affection.
The two actors play several other parts as well – adopting slightly different clothes (casually pulled from a couple of linen baskets at the edge of the playing space), voices and stances. They become, at one point, for example. a middle aged couple who are foster parents and Bateson also plays a friend called Layla who turns into something else. While both actors carry this off well enough the changes are quite low key so that it is slightly and potentially confusing. I hope it won’t put off the teenage audiences at whom this is aimed.
Of course – this is Half Moon after all – the research for this piece was all local. And in Tower Hamlets 53% of young people live in poverty, some of them inevitably off the grid because they fall through gaps and disappear. It’s that realism which makes this show so powerful. Elwell has said that he hopes it might encourage people to become agents for change. I hope so too.
First published by Sardines: http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-West%20End%20&%20Fringe-Off%20the%20Grid%20-%20%E2%98%85%E2%98%85%E2%98%85%E2%98%85&reviewsID=3382