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Clean Slate by Trip and Guts Theatre at the Courtyard Theatre

Clean Slate by Trip and Guts TheatreThis 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.

2 gold stars

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

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Author

  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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6 thoughts on “Clean Slate by Trip and Guts Theatre at the Courtyard Theatre”

  1. Whoever wrote this clearly does not understand the first thing about females, especially the relationships they have with close friends! I personally would not listen to a misogynistic, out dated mind and would suggest that if they want to review contemporary theatre they need to have an understanding of how the modern world works. Please update your out-dated, not just old but ancient fashioned views on women let alone theatre.

  2. Which planet does this reviewer live on? The audience was so moved by this play that several people gave the actors a standing ovation. The acting was superb from beginning to end. Yes, the dialogue on sex was overwritten but that was a small blemish on a production that was so moving it will stay with me for a long, long time. If you can’t recognise good acting when you see it you’re in the wrong profession mate. As for not being able to hear the cast, I believe hearing tests are cheap.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Dianne, feedback is appreciated.

      I think your comment “hearing tests are cheap” is inappropriate and discriminatory. There are many deaf or hard of hearing people who delight in being a part of a theatre audience – mostly without the benefit of a loop. Also, when half the cast have their backs to the audience most of the time it makes lip-reading unviable. I am sure that once you have given the comment further consideration you will withdraw it.

      I am pleased that you agree with me that “the dialogue on sex was overwritten”. It is my view that if this play was reduced to about 50 minutes (half it’s current length – i.e. to a classic EdFringe slot) then it would be less rambling, far more punchy and it’s point would be made much more effectively.

      It is meant to be a play about assisted suicide rather than twenty-something female sexual exploits, isn’t it?

  3. Spencer fields

    This has to be one of the most misogynistic rants I have ever read. With maybe 2 valid points this is nothing but an old man having a go at a different generation because it isn’t the patriarchal view he was brought up to believe.
    A review should be constructed to give an idea on what a audience member should expect to see and not the mind of a victorian critic.
    This review is exactly why more theatre like this should be made.

    1. Thanks, Spencer, for your thoughts: I’m very pleased to hear that you find the review makes some valid points.

      It’s interesting, though, that you respond to what you percieve to be a “mysoginistic rant” with blatantly ageist comments. They do neither you, nor the generation you are purporting to represent, any favours.

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