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Empty Vessels at Rosemary Branch Theatre – Review

Empty VesselsIt’s quite an elaborate set for a small studio space, an outdoor setting, with Roman columns depicting some sort of large porch or veranda, and a beach directly in front. The set is deliberately incomplete, with large grey bricks dotted about – the building is a work in progress. We later discover Empty Vessels happens to be set in a Greek island, but ultimately the location is a secondary matter: it is the humour in the dialogue that takes precedence.

The comedy in this production is absorbing, and the audience very quickly finds itself drawn in. Almost immediately Eric (Ben Warwick) wants to know if his friend Travis (Tobias Deacon), apparently a reality television star, considered himself ‘real’ when the cameras were trained on him (and his fellow contestants) night and day. “Are you a real person on a fake show, or a fake person on a real show?” The consideration of what is reality and supposed ‘fantasy’ is relentless, and eventually outstays its welcome, becoming pedantic as the narrative turns increasingly fuzzy.

The two lads are joined by Bethany (Fliss Walton), who is ghost-writing Eric’s autobiography, and Athena (Sophia Hannides), who from what I deduced is a local woman with a belief in reincarnation. Or, as Bethany described her, a “biker chick with a personality disorder”. That she is local means she is well-versed in Greek mythology. It would not necessarily follow that all people living in Greece today would be experts in their own ancient history, but that is the sort of thing that, in part, the play explores. “Anything is possible,” says Eric, but then, as Bethany points out, sometimes people want “…a logical explanation to explain the unexplainable”.

The text is, I would imagine, a dream to write about from an academic perspective. The dialogue is unnatural, insofar as it is written in such a way to maximise comic effect. And it does so very well – this is the sort of hearty, laugh-out-loud, rolling-in-the-aisles kind of funny. There’s alliteration in places, plus allusions to ancient philosophies and deities. Questions of morality and ethics arise several times, and more than once the characters’ words spoken early on in the play are spoken back at them, like a taste of their own medicine, later on.

While the fantasies expounded in the play are intentionally extreme, the play seems to suggest that it is better to dream and to have had dreams crushed than not to dream at all. Eric’s capacity to even imagine quitting his job and taking time out to write a book, even if it is one about slaying dragons, leads him to find himself doing just that.

Greg Freeman’s script gradually becomes utterly absurd – and kudos to Tobias Deacon as Travis for spending what must have been a good ten minutes (if not more) saying nothing save for an almost continual low level growl. It is, however, compelling and entertaining. It’s always good when a play is flanked by a strong and proficient cast.

Both plot and narrative proceed at a breakneck pace, and as it develops, each character is revealed to be an empty vessel, as their realities are starkly different from their ambitions, dreams, hopes – or ‘fantasies’. It’s an intelligent and philosophical piece of theatre, and in its hilarity allows its audiences to consider our own fantasies, and whether it is reasonable and beneficial to be bold enough to attempt to make them come true.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

EMPTY VESSELS by Greg Freeman
Eric is a fantasy novelist in more ways than one. His year-long writing sabbatical mainly entails loafing around on a Greek Island, sponging off a friend, sipping drinks with TV celebs and doing very little writing.

He is living the dream. But he’s also treading a very dangerous line. As part of the research for his book, he has bought four human souls. Yes that’s right, he’s bought four human souls. Eric has ventured into the territory of the Gods, and when a Goddess comes calling, the results are…well, Classic.

The world premiere of Greg Freeman’s brand new play blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Then rubs it out. But where is the line between a modern celebrity and an ancient Greek god?
 And are we only empty vessels, with no soul to sell?

Red Bear presents EMPTY VESSELS
By Greg Freeman
Directed by Ken McClymont
Rosemary Branch Theatre, Islington, 23rd Sept- 17th October

Tuesday 29th September, 2015

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