Review: ‘Sparks’

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Pitch Productions’ have chosen Simon Longman’s ‘Sparks’ as their most recent performance which depicts the fraught, damaged relationship between two sisters who have been estranged for over twelve years. There are only two female protagonists (Jess and Sarah), played by Gayaneh Vlieghe and Athena Tzallas, which requires an intimate atmosphere – this is perfectly achieved through the decision to choose Van Mildert’s Ustinov Room for the production.

It is not an exaggeration to state that both Vlieghe and Tzallas give some of the best and most emotionally challenging performances of any play that has been put on this term (possibly even at Durham). They give incredibly thought-provoking and different performances which is impressive given the fact that these characters are both sisters confronting each other in an identical situation. A high proportion of the first act is dominated by monologues which Vlieghe delivers with a restlessness and anxiety which hides beneath the surface and achieves an understated yet also somehow heightened sense of building tension. Throughout these monologues, Tzallas maintains an intriguingly blank, confused expression which is weighted with the shock and despair of a woman being confronted with a past she has tried to ignore.

Vlieghe and Tzallas give some of the best and most emotionally challenging performances of any play that has been put on this term

Whilst they both give incredible individual performances, this production is special because of the way in which Vlieghe and Tzallas interact together. Their bond as sisters is entirely convincing and the strained dialogue they share feels extremely natural to the point of the audience feeling as though they are intruding. There is also great skill in the way they occasionally hold back by treating their lines with a matter-of-fact nonchalance, especially when what they are saying is very chilling. Their ability to show restraint serves to elevate the climactic moments in the script whilst also bringing out an underlying sense of dark humour which left the audience giggling one moment and then silently horrified in the next. Preserving the balance between the hilarious and poignant moments within this script is difficult to manoeuvre but Vlieghe and Tzallas, with the guidance of their director Isobel Jacob, have treated all of these instances with refined nuance.

This production is special because of the way Vlieghe and Tzallas interact together

The production team also deserve great recognition for their hard work in creating a set which enhances the intimate atmosphere and claustrophobia which unfurls itself within Longman’s writing. The stage is blue-lit at the beginning but as the performance continues into the second act the lighting changes to red in order to reflect the final outburst from Sarah whose emotional scars are suddenly reopening in front of us.

Additionally, the set is kept minimal with just two chairs, a table and some cardboard boxes to reveal a life and home which has been about surviving rather than living. Longman makes many references to the heavy rainfall in his script which the technical team play through speakers on a constant loop in order to highlight the way in which the bleak atmosphere that exists outside the house is gradually bleeding into the interior. However, this became slightly distracting as the show progressed and occasionally marred the moments of silence which are significant in portraying the distance between the two sisters. Despite this, distance is achieved in other ways as Isobel Jacob choreographs the scenes so that Tzallas is often, like the audience, observing Vlieghe from afar to highlight their lack of interaction at the beginning. At times, even when there is dialogue, they project it towards the audience rather than at each other which reveals their joint emotional dislocation.

Pitch Productions have nurtured two incredible actors

Pitch Productions have nurtured two incredible actors in Gayaneh Vlieghe and Athena Tzallas in order to create an outstanding performance of Simon Longman’s ‘Sparks’. This play feels extremely important as it showcases two female characters not concerned with romance or men, but with the vital importance of women supporting each other and the rifts that are caused when this support is absent. This remarkable production of ‘Sparks’ will be performed once more on November 29th at Van Mildert College.

Image by Pitch Productions

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