With its quintessential Gothic setting of a remote cottage in the woods, Ali Hunter’s heavily misted lighting and unexplained things that go bump in the afternoon, Julie Tsang’s Fix is more Twilight Zone than kitchen-sink drama – despite its promise of emotional intensity and frustration in the pursuit of functioning white goods.
Although we initially encounter some theatrical, vaguely Pinteresque, chit-chat between the reclusive cottage-dweller Li Na (Tina Chiang) and self-employed appliance repairman Kevin (Mikey Anthony-Howe), director Jen Tan, brings us to the hypnotic, trippy qualities of the drama rapidly. Some aspects of the intended intrigue are pleasingly curious. For example, there is a moment when Li Na’s identity as an old lady – established by her manner, clothes and the decor – no longer seems certain. This is well conveyed by Tina Chiang and presents a conspiratorial kind of confusion that disorients the audience as intended.
One can see how Tsang was looking for menace and confusion in this two-hander with hints of other worldliness like Pinter’s Old Times. However, she also brought in slabs of folklore, smatterings of psychoanalytic literalism and, unfortunately, introduced notes of preachiness that climax in a way that feels sensational rather than appropriately tragic. And, whilst this is not a kitchen-sink drama, it does feel that everything but the kitchen sink was thrown into it. From various representations of gas-lighting to re-gendering creation myths, Tsang has lots of ideas she’s keen to weave together. Some of them are strong and interesting with promise to provoke thought and discussion. Yet she also has dragged in some plotting devices that feel straight out of poor-woman’s Agatha Christie with far more melodrama than melancholy. It’s as if the same notebook was used, excitedly, to make notes and scribbles from a series of disparate workshops and somehow became the script of a one-act drama. Rather than having density and layers, Fix has somewhat cacophonous poetic moments assembled side-by-side and held together with thin propelling actions: drugged tea; trapped in a storm; time literally standing still. You can see where she’s trying to go but it never quite binds together on the strength of the ideas – which are divorced from the story and glued together with hokey renderings of suspense and horror.
Creatively, there are some strong aspects. Richard Bell’s sound design is effective, particularly with eerie radio-as-revelation moments.
Director Jen Tan has chosen to place the set in the round rather than use the back wall of the Pleasance’s small studio space. This is a bigger, and perhaps unnecessary, challenge and causes some detriment to sight-lines that obscures the actors faces at key moments, which isn’t helpful to delivering the intense psychological claustrophobia she seeks.
Whilst much of this play is fragmented and some of its story-telling egregiously clichéd, other aspects are fresh and enchanting, demonstrating further potential from its author.
Review by Mary Beer
Fix tells the story of Kevin, a washing machine repairman who finds himself inexplicably drawn to an old woman and her house in the woods. At first it seems like a simple fix but as a storm starts to close in, he is forced to confront the ghosts from his past.
in association with The Pleasance and Yellow Earth Theatre presents
By Julie Tsang
Directed by Jen Tan
Assistant Director: Zhui Ning Chang
Designer: Rachel Wingate
Lighting Designer: Ali Hunter
Sound Designer: Richard Bell
Mikey Anthony-Howe plays Kevin
Tina Chiang plays Li Na
14 January – 1 February 2020
Press night: Thursday 16 January, 8pm