Empty Shop is a distinctive space, ideal for creating intimacy and a casual atmosphere. The venue presents many unique obstacles for a cast but equally provides the perfect backdrop for Fortnight Theatre’s production of Kate Tempest’s Wasted. Tempest’s play combines poetic spoken-word monologues and ensemble speeches with prosaic scenes. The play is set in modern day South London and follows three friends as they get “wasted” at a party on the anniversary of their friend Tony’s death.
In the original 2012 production of Wasted, directed by James Grieve, the actors spoke their monologues through microphones, and this depiction of an actor in front of a microphone has become iconic. Director Sofya Grebekina bravely chose to discard this image, moving away from the stylised device of technology to a more naturalistic delivery which better suits the mood of her piece.
As Tempest’s chorus states, the characters of the play “just want to show you something honest” and this is reflected in the laid back atmosphere created by Fortnight Theatre’s production. There is never a pretence of presenting a polished and large scale production, but rather a focus on the importance of the play’s powerful words and emotions. Before the audience even takes their seats, the intimacy between actor and audience is established, with the audience having to walk past the actors in the ‘backstage’ area in order to reach their seats. Unfortunately, the level of trust between the actors and the audience is not maintained all the way through the production. In the beginning, the characters break down the fourth wall, promising to tell us their honest thoughts which, for such emotionally stunted characters who can only speak their feelings whilst intoxicated, is an exciting prospect indeed. It is a shame, therefore, that the production does not build upon the connection that has been established between actor and audience – after the first scene, the audience is conspicuously excluded.
The rest of the speeches in the script are addressed to the characters’ dead friend, Tony. This presents a problem for a company who have already acknowledged the audience in deciding how far to involve the audience in their addresses to Tony. This is a potentially exciting prospect, with the script having virtually given the actors permission to be aware of the audience. It appears that Grebenkina and her cast have not made a clear decision on this matter, as there appears to be confusion as to whether the actors are allowed to look at the audience whilst addressing Tony, and perhaps the production would benefit from clearer and more adventurous decisions regarding the fourth wall. Whilst both Danny (played by Danny Parker) and Ted (played by Owen Sparkes) have moments of connection with the audience, Charlotte (played by Olivia Bevan) addresses all of her speeches above the audience’s heads, meaning that no matter how much Bevan connects with the words she is saying, she fails to take the audience on that same journey with her.
The naturalism of the production is one of its most enjoyable aspects – Tempest’s relatable themes of life, loss and love are given justice by Fortnight Theatre’s cast. Parker is by far the most natural actor on stage. One issue with Parker’s portrayal of Danny is that he makes the character too likeable, meaning that when Danny expresses an awareness at being “an asshole,” the audience may find this difficult to reconcile with the version of Danny that Parker portrays.
The standout performance is given by Sparkes, who makes interesting creative decisions. Sparkes’ plays Ted as comedic yet believable, striking an entertaining balance between eccentric and sensible. The character of Ted often goes off on random tangents, which Sparkes uses as an opportunity to create consistent characterisation, using the same gesture and voice each time he embarks on another digression.
Whilst Grebenkina’s directorial choices are generally creative and well thought out, there are moments where Grebenkina opts for the safe decision. The production begins with each character in their own monotonous day-to-day routine. The return to the same image at the end is perhaps an attempt to represent the futility with which the characters try to change their life. The actors spend far too long in their poses at the start, which results in a sluggish, rather than attention-grabbing, first scene. The final image feels added on as almost an afterthought, with the audience already having prepared themselves to clap. This results in an awkward confusion which draws the audience’s focus away from the power of the piece into the embarrassment of not knowing when to applaud.
Fortnight Theatre company, as the name implies, takes just two weeks rehearsal period, the entire production of Wasted is just an hour long, and the play concerns itself with the fleetingness of life. With just two performance dates, continuing the theme of brevity, Wasted, despite its flaws, is well worth catching before it disappears.
‘Wasted’ will be performed at Empty Shop on Tuesday, 13th June and Wednesday 14th June at 20:00. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Anna Iermolaieva