Review: ‘Bank’

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As with any piece of absurdist theatre there is always a sense that the audience will inevitably leave the theatre with more questions than they came in with. To use one of Bertolt Brecht’s most famous expressions, the audience certainly did not ‘hang up their brains with their hats in the cloakroom’, and were made to step back and analyse the goings-on in their own world with attitudes towards poverty. Suffragette Theatre Company’s production of ’s piece was certainly very entertaining, but it did, nonetheless, provide theatregoers with serious messages to ponder over on the way home. 

Powerful message on the repetitive nature of global poverty

’s script perfectly encapsulated the weirdness of absurdism, presenting strange passages of repetitious dialogue (the one where they debate over having a cup of coffee was particularly amusing), reminiscent of the back-and-forth meaninglessness of dialogue seen in Beckett’s masterpiece ‘Waiting for Godot’. This was combined with well-delivered and believable performances from the actors, ensuring that the messages were not lost in translation. With the repeated expression ‘these tins are out of date’ and the final line ‘the end is the beginning and the beginning is the end’, the script truly presented a powerful message on the repetitive nature of global poverty, making the audience question why it continues. The out of date food tins resting upon the baron set design of boxes, served as a constant reminder to the audience of those struggling to meet the breadline. 

One particularly effective detail was that the actors used the audience entrance as the ‘entrance’ to the food shelter, allowing for elements of immersion. I truly felt that I was in the food shelter with the characters, thereby allowing the audience to feel the emotion of Steer all the more vividly. Although, I would have liked more experimentation with breaking the fourth wall. In bathos-filled monologues from ’s Steer, his upward eye line felt unnatural for the intimate stage space and some eye contact with the audience may have been more effective. 

Smart’s delivery of Steer was well sustained throughout. He portrayed his development well, exploring complex themes such as mental health, delivered by his compelling outbursts. Such moments of rage delivered drama to the scene, allowing the suspense to increase, particularly with the tension-building musical direction of Owen Kennedy. As Smart wringed his hands and intensely shouted out to the audience, I could not help but feel disconcerted. There were also moments of vulnerability, particularly towards the end as Smart sat, head lowered with a low gestural space and look of utter brokenness. But I did, nonetheless, want to see more of this side to his character. The intense shouting did, at times, feel repetitive and one-sided, and I wanted to see more moments of fragility to add psychological nuance to the character. 

The perfect balance to Smart’s intensity was the controlled performance of Esther Levin’s Carol which was, for me, one of the standout performances. She demonstrated sophisticated rapport with her fellow performers, presenting her character as assertive, with a lot on their shoulders. Her countenance and jolly tone conveyed utter professionalism, contrasting perfectly with her frustrated arguments with ’s Mark, and her heart-wrenching speech to Steer at the end. Such speech combined anger and tearful emotion so well, demonstrating skilful variety from the performer. Freda’s Mark was also well delivered, especially with his sustained character voice. His laid back demeanour was contrasted well with his outbursts at Steer, again demonstrating variety in the character’s portrayal. 

Special praise must also be given to ’s Tim, delivering another standout performance. Her depiction of childish vulnerability was encapsulated so well by her high intonation and movement. This actress had mastered subtlety of expression with her little smiles towards Steer, heightened by the audience’s close proximity towards her. Her innocence caught up in the frantic world of Steer was so hard so watch, conveyed by the excellent contrast between them. 

equally deserves praise for his depiction of the arrogant pomposity of Norris. Using Received Pronunciation with an upright stance, Currah delivered his character’s respectability well. Particularly with his sly comments to Steel, delivered by smirking and self-assured mockery, the audience could not help but sympathise for Steel. One particularly compelling moment was when Currah circled Smart, taunting him. This was delivered so well, and contrasted with Currah’s previous respectable façade, allowing the audience to see his character’s darker and lighter aspects.

Filled the action-packed scenes with tension to the brim

But what this piece managed to deliver so well was its moments of tension. With Smart’s explosive performance, the drama of Kennedy’s music, and the bright intense lighting, this filled the action-packed scenes with tension to the brim. Particularly in one (of many) of Smart’s outbursts as Steer, the lighting faded in and out. This seemed to take the audience into Steer’s consciousness, feeling his anxiety alongside him.  Special praise must be given to the lighting design for building this moment of tension so well. 

Bank, then, was very enjoyable. It may be too far to call it a ‘didactic’ piece, but it did, nonetheless, truly make audience members question what it means to be charitable, without seeming to preach, thereby maintaining its entertainment value as well. 

‘Bank’ will be performed again at 2:30pm and 7:30pm on 1st March at the Durham Union Debating Chamber. 

Image: taken from the Suffragette Theatre Company’s Facebook page

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