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Review of Gate: A new play by Artemis Fitzalan Howard

L to R Charlotte Christensen, Louise Grayford, Luke Ward & Jack Reitman in GATE. Credit Lidia Crisafulli
L to R Charlotte Christensen, Louise Grayford, Luke Ward & Jack Reitman in GATE. Credit Lidia Crisafulli

On reading the synopsis of the play, one might wonder whether Gate is going to be inspiring or depressing. It turns out to be generally uplifting, but with some harsher truths thrown in.

Written by Artemis Fitzalan Howard and directed by Sadie Spencer, this superb play at The Cockpit brings together five individuals who are questioning the meaning of life, quite literally. As Spencer says, the play explores why exactly people choose to have faith and how it affects their lives.

The Cockpit is superb for the purposes of Gate, with the balcony being made use of for a live chorus of angels which casts a beautiful aura from the beginning. It’s performed in the round, but the audience is more distant than at smaller venues, which is nice in a way as the actors’ closeness doesn’t distract.

At the beginning, Emma Dennis-Edwards has a brilliant scene sat at a desk on stage. She has her back to some of the audience for this whole opening, which is a shame rather than a hindrance to the story as it’s really funny.

Dennis-Edward, playing Eve, carries herself with such energy from the start, however, that it’s more a shame than a hindrance if sat where she has her back to you. Her delivery of stressed secretarial life with too many phones ringing is excellent, and she raises many laughs from then on in through her casual delivery of one-liners and overall demeanour.

The other four characters enter one by one, each giving a clear introduction to what sort of person they are just by the way they react to the news that they are, in fact, waiting to get into heaven.

Although each has the makings of a stereotypical persona, each character is fully formed in their own right. They give hints as to what has gone in the past, in their real lives, and members of the audience are left to fill in the obvious gaps. Each clearly defined, the actors bounce off each other; there are no gaps in the script and it flows nicely as they really listen and react to each other. They also do a good job of waiting for the relevant laughs to die down too, and there are plenty of them.

A particularly funny highlight is the ‘pass the ball of shame game.’ A game that many people in the audience were probably cringing to think of playing themselves, the writing here is hilarious, as the most bizarre and seemingly irrelevant things all come to light under the stress of the moment, and indeed, the entire situation they are in.

Will Coban, being the first new arrival (Mark) to enter the waiting room sets up the idea that none of them know where they are. Coban has the difficult task of playing someone who is completely freaking out, which he does well, although a little less shouting would help shape him more as he initially takes a bit of getting used to and only really settles down when the next two characters arrive. Having said that, Coban has some brilliant deliveries later in the play, both comedic and full of leadership.

Joe McArdle plays the other male, Luke, and he couldn’t be any more different. Luke is clearly loveable and full of hope, and McArdle embodies this through his physicality and puppy-dog excitement. A genuine ‘nice guy,’ Luke learns the hard way not to be taken for granted, and this full circle discovery is played with commitment and credibility by this great actor.

Eleanor Henderson and Katie Sherrard make up the rest of the group and again are complete opposites. Although they are playing a specific type of person, both actresses bring a whole history in with them, and their characters are full and their good and bad traits amplified in all the right ways. Henderson has a nice casual approach, she is at ease on the stage and as Rebecca, she is feisty yet blasé in all the right doses.

Sherrard initially goes a little the same way as Coban, almost too much screeching as she tries to work everything out, but she is great throughout and her admittance later on to something she is ashamed of is played beautifully.

The only downfall of the play came toward the end. Having been taken to the next step, we listen as each person, including Eve, take time to reflect on what has come to light during the brief period spent together. Although this whole section worked and served its purpose of getting the audience to ponder their outlook on many points raised, it was also extremely different to the rest of the evening. A nice summary, delivered in a contrasting way, it was lovely and rounded it up nicely, but it did provoke a bit of fidgeting in the audience the longer it went on. As nice as it is to ponder on life’s big questions, some of their realisations perhaps could have been delivered while still speaking to each other. Then again, it’s true that sometimes things are only realised when on one’s own, so maybe the audience just need to deal with sitting a little longer.

There’s suddenly a nice inject of more lively music at the end which wakes everyone up but could do with a little more commitment from the angel chorus, they suddenly seemed a little awkward which was a shame given their beautiful work the whole way through.

Overall, a really great and funny play which hits all the right notes in comedy, music and general delivery.

4 stars

Review by H Hemming

It is an average Thursday morning at ‘The Gate’ in Wapping and, like every first-born child in the generations before her, Eve is guarding it carefully. It’s going to be a busy day- there are four new appointments booked in. The trouble is none of the clients knew they were coming… because to reach the gates you have to be dead.

I mean… I sort of hoped the pearly gates story was true-ish where I could finally have curly hair and be into fitness and classical music and eat Philadelphia toast in the clouds with my other angel pals. But now I’m here and this is- I’m questioning everything I ever believed in.

Following on from the acclaimed success of Predrinks/Afterparty, which The Sunday Times hailed for ‘Nailing the comic timing and delivering laughs at every turn’ Deadpan Theatre return with a poignant and witty story of love and loss that asks what really happens to us after we die, what we leave behind and what we will become.

Written by: Artemis Fitzalan Howard
Directed by: Sadie Spencer
Designed by: Alex Berry
Graphic Design by: Roo Cassells
Produced by: Artemis Fitzalan Howard
Booking to Sunday 24th September – 7:30pm
http://thecockpit.org.uk/

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