By Tamsin Bracher
Written in response to a survey that asked young people in their twenties what it is that defined their generation, this play – comprised of eight monologues – captures the spirit of our age and challenges its reputation for apathy. With this in mind, I was nervous that Eight – written by a student for students – would present a downward spiral into existential torment and the frustration of ‘generation rent’: ‘Our working lives will be longer than our parents. Our pensions will be smaller […] We’ve lived the best years of our lives.’ There was no need to worry; Hild Bede Theatre’s production was both innovative and diverse. Its vitality was refreshed by every actor’s monologue and the cumulative effect was incredibly powerful; narrative piled upon narrative with wit, poignancy and all the force of the contemporary: ‘so this is it.’
Eight, concerned with ‘choice culture’, invites us to vote for the order in which we would like to hear the monologues. This gimmick involves the audience in a way that becomes more potently realised as the play develops. The intimacy of the venue – there could not have been more than fifty in the audience – was enhanced by the actors’ continual presence on stage. Sitting in a line opposite us, they too became part of the crowd. When interviewed by Adele Cooke for the preview, Rachel Davies (assistant director) described how the ‘group dynamic’ was one of the main features of the HBT production. This came across strongly during the performance and was aided by director Corinna Harrison’s decision to deliver some monologues alongside one another. Eight monologues which capture the zeitgeist of the millennial generation seems overly neat, and these parallel recitals invoked a duality between highly contrasting individuals: Andre (a homosexual gallery owner, played by Jasper Millard) is paired with Bobby (a single mum from Scotland, played by Mally Capstick); Miles (an embodiment of the American dream and survivor of terrorism, played by Qasim Salam) is paired with Mona (daughter of a bohemian, played by Jasmine Price). Thus the ostensible disparity between the characters – what I heard one audience member describe as the ‘completely random selection of people’ – is broken down. Purporting as monologues, these speeches would better be described as conversations – dialogues between character and audience, writer and character, character and character: a collection of ‘underground fairies’. And what could be more powerful?
First to perform were Jasper Millard and Mally Capstick playing Andre and Bobby. Although at times there was something stilted in their rapport – a few stumbles, occasional slips in the Scottish accent and a slight awkwardness – overall their monologues combined humour with heart-rending reminiscences to poignant effect. Carrie Gaunt gave a hilarious performance as Millie – a jolly hockey sticks girl whose career consists of the ‘re-invigoration’ of ‘Rogers and Roberts’, ‘Harrys and Humphreys.’ So too did Hamish Lloyd Barnes as Jude – a seventeen-year-old boy sent by his father to the South of France. Even these seemingly light-hearted monologues played out with disturbing consequences – not many of us can identify with a high-end prostitute, or a school-boy’s infatuation with a sixty-year-old woman, yet there is a communion of purpose which unites these ‘queers of the fringes’ and by extension us. HBT’s performance was directed at the audience with a frankness and originality that completely won me over – never before have I felt so personally invested in a piece of student theatre.
A special mention should go to Tyler Rainford who played Astrid – a woman who confesses to cheating on her boyfriend, Ben. Identifying as female in their own life, Tyler gave a formidable performance battling with guilt and the disintegration of their relationship: ‘It wouldn’t even occur to him that I could have done what I have. There could be all three of us in this bed and I still don’t think it would cross his mind.’ Casting Tyler as Astrid is just one example of this show’s diversity; the actors spanned a range of year groups, colleges and courses within the student body. Eight, by its very nature, is polyphonic. Whilst staging was incredibly minimal – featuring stark black boxes for the characters to sit or lay upon, limited props per monologue, black and white costumes, and elemental lighting – in contrast, this HBT production offered up a terrifying ‘circus’ of articulation. With all the self-consciousness of postmodernist thought, every part of Eight’s set design reflected a deliberate choice: surely it is significant that the audience sat on the stage as well as the actors? The play challenged notions of universality and vocalised a sense of interconnection which negates binary choice: we are both Bobby and Andre, Miles and Mona, man and woman, everything and nothing …
First-night hiccups aside, Eight’s ‘parting gift’ is an utter breakdown of boundaries, an enlargement of vision. One of the most exciting aspects of this play is that every night promises to be different. Each part will come together in a new order, thus forming a new whole. Get yourself down to the Caedmon Hall. I made my choice, now make yours.
Eight will be performed in Caedmon Hall, Hild Bede from Thursday, 26th of January until Saturday, 28th of January at 20:00. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Hild Bede Theatre