“This is going nowhere” and “We’re getting drunk” – two quotes from near the end of Trip & Guts Theatre’s production of Clean Slate: only one of them is correct.
With a long table, set in-the-round, almost entirely covered with bottles of red, white and rose wine, gin, vodka, rum and Martini as well as beer the “six twenty-something women” consume vast quantities of alcohol during the evening, including numerous shots – and not a single one of them ever gets inebriated. No, not even the slightest bit tipsy. Oh yes, they shout, they scream, they bicker and they rant but not a single word ever gets slurred, there are no unsteady movements and whilst the drink may indeed be talking none of them are the teeniest bit drunk. That’s bad writing, it’s bad direction and, above all that is just plain bad acting.
As for going nowhere… these are the archetypal Nowhere Girls, a collection of insipid, uninteresting and uninspired characters ploughing doggedly through a script consisting of the kind of rambling, inconsequential verbiage that gets over-writing a good name. Responsible for the script is writer Catherine Chabot in cahoots with six others (presumably the original cast) which renders the play a clumsy collaboration without structure, lacking plot, and uncluttered by meaningful character development. Far from behaving like intelligent, cultured twenty-seven-year-olds the six are like a bunch of scatty and skittish simpering teens. Yes, I have to report that the first 90 minutes of this 110 minute play (scheduled for 90 minutes without interval though actually running for near two hours in a hot space with no AC in a heatwave: give us a break – in more senses than one – please) is entirely devoted to Wikiporn of the smutty, giggling, wink-wink, social media level kind which twenty-seven-year-olds would have grown out of – believe me – and whose only purpose is salacious effect. Five minutes of this would have sufficed; not ninety. And then the show would have been of a more realistic length.
The problem with all this low-level shock-scenity is that it was delivered mainly with gauche, abashed, self-consciousness as if the actors not only didn’t understand some of what they were saying but had clearly never been there. Rather than emotion-memory being employed here, it was more a case, I would think, that research consisted of porn-channel-memory.
Director Deborah Kearne’s decision to play this in-the-round doesn’t really come off principally because, with actors so frequently having their backs to parts of the audience, audibility is a significant drawback. Personally, in the flexible Courtyard Studio, I would set the play in a thrust configuration so that the cast have more chance to engage with the whole audience more of the time. Also, having two sets of actors conversing at either end of the playing area at the same time so that neither can be heard properly is a serious mistake. Hannah Wilder, as the cancer-stricken wannabe-suicide was the chief culprit audibility-wise and her light delivery was hard to pick up even when she was a couple of feet away. Clara Emanuel is sparky but also difficult to hear unless she’s shouting “no smoking!” whilst Lauren Douglin is at least very clear and thoughtful in her approach despite some of the dire lines she has to deliver. Kathleen Glynn gives good shouty-crackers though what she is saying most of the time I have no idea but it didn’t seem to make much difference; Vanessa Labrie clearly knows her way around a stage but appears to be pleading “I’m a proper actor – get me out of here!” and Asha Cluer has good presence but seems to want to distance herself from the crassness of much of the dialogue.
Stage Manager/Technician James Allbones also appears as the Delivery Man. It says something that his scrabbling out of the technical box, over the seating and out of the auditorium to appear on stage with Pizzas is quite the most interesting thing that happens – a welcome diversion from the women’s compulsive and dispiriting genitalia-obsession.
When we eventually reach the end of this torturous journey we find that these Nowhere Girls in their nowhere world with their nowhere plans are actually a do-it-yourself Dignitas group: the cancer-stricken one of their number is laid peacefully to rest. Whisper it quietly but such a fate might be the best outcome for Clean Slate.
Review by Peter Yates
What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?
Is it possible to change your identity if your past is still the same?
Six twenty-something women, friends since childhood, gather in a lakeside cabin. They eat, drink, sing and laugh because it is the only ritual they know – one where no topic is too taboo and no question is off limits. As the evening quickly unravels, they each have to make a decision for themselves, and find their own sacrifice, their point of no return.
They speak of everything with excess and love in a crescendo of bittersweet exchanges. Clean Slate, in the same vein as Broad City or Girls, offers a genuine portrayal of millennial women: one that is bold and clever, beautiful and grotesque, belligerent and heart-warming.
Table Rase (original French title) was recently produced at the Espace Libre theatre in Montreal, with a first successful run in November 2015, which led to a second run in January 2017. The story was a collective creation devised by all six actresses and drafted into an official script by Catherine Chabot. Together, they’ve created a colourful and lively piece in which the spectator find himself in the position of the voyeur – eavesdropping on an intimate gathering of women in search of catharsis.
Table Rase won the 2016 ACQT’s Prix de la Critique for best new writing. This is the first English-language staging of the play, and is Trip & Guts Theatre’s second production. The company’s first production, Cut Throat received multiple four star reviews during its run at the Camden Fringe 2016.
Trip and Guts Theatre Company
Studio, Courtyard Theatre, 40 Pitfield Street, N1 6EU, London.
20th June 2017 to 13th July 2017 – 8:00PM