Review: Eros at the White Bear Theatre

In June of this year, Instagram hit a new milestone: one billion active monthly users. Facebook, meanwhile, is still streets ahead with 2.23 billion people logging in every month. It’s becoming more and more difficult to remember (or for the younger generation, imagine) what life was like before the Internet – and particularly before we were able to take it with us wherever we go.

Obviously, it has its benefits; without the Internet I wouldn’t be here writing this review, for one thing. But there are growing and legitimate concerns about the amount of time we now spend in the digital world, being exposed to fake news and impossible ideals, and the risks this poses on both a global and a personal level.

Photo credit: Stephanie Claire Photography

Set in the 90s, Kevin Mandry’s Eros takes us back to the early days of the Internet, and into the studio of Ross Black (Stephen Riddle). A former glamour photographer, he’s fallen on hard times and now scrapes a living helping small businesses produce marketing brochures. He dreams of giving it all up and moving to Scotland, much to the horror of his assistant Terri (Felicity Jolly), for whom the studio is much more than just a job. And then his ex-lover Kate (Anna Tymoshenko) arrives out of the blue to remind Ross of his glory days – and not in a good way.

The first thing to say about Eros is that it doesn’t necessarily go where you think it’s going… but it’s also difficult to pinpoint exactly where it does end up. Touching on various extremely topical themes – consent and female agency, our obsession with untouchable perfection, the growing influence of technology – it doesn’t really focus on any of them in any depth, and despite some intriguing details and hints that there could be a big twist coming, the explosive revelation we’ve been waiting for never arrives. As such the production, directed by Stephen Bailey, becomes somewhat lacking in pace before concluding on a disappointingly lacklustre note.

On a more personal level, as a portrait of the relationships between three disillusioned characters whose lives haven’t gone the way they hoped, the play is more successful. Felicity Jolly’s Terri is by far the most likeable of the three; after escaping a troubled past, she’s found some kind of stability with Ross, who she clearly idolises as a father figure. She’s terrified of losing both her home and her new-found Internet connection, which has allowed her to make new friends all over the world through the miracle of chatrooms.

Photo credit: Stephanie Claire Photography

The majority of the stage time belongs to Anna Tymoshenko and Stephen Riddle as Kate and Ross, whose relationship is complex and at times confusing. One minute Kate is bristling with righteous anger and hatred, the next she’s flirting, dancing around the studio, and even suggesting they get back together. She has what appears to be a picture perfect life – big house, successful business – but something’s missing, and it’s clear that despite everything she still feels some lingering affection for her former lover. There are a few moments where the two connect and it seems like this affection might be reciprocated, but they never last long; Ross has his own idea of a perfect life and Kate, it seems, has never featured in it.

Eros sets out to tackle some interesting questions about human nature and our relationship with the ever-changing world around us, and offers an enjoyable opportunity for those old enough to reminisce about the joys of dial-up internet. The personal story of the characters is intriguing to watch as it unfolds, but unfortunately a lack of focus reduces the topical contribution that the play could have made to more than one ongoing discussion.

Eros is at the White Bear Theatre until 15th September.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it…

Review: Conquest at The Vaults

One of the interesting things about the #metoo movement that’s been sweeping social media since the Harvey Weinstein revelations is how it’s been just as much of a wake up call for women as it has for men. And not only in terms of realising the scale of the issue; many women will have spent time over the last few months re-evaluating incidents from our own lives that we might have previously played down, tried to justify to ourselves, or never even thought of as unwanted physical contact.

Alice’s #metoo moment happens in Boots, as she’s buying the morning after pill following a one night stand that on reflection, she’s not at all sure she wanted to happen but was basically too polite to put a stop to. As fate would have it, she bumps into Jo, a perfect stranger and committed feminist, who’s irritated by what she sees as Alice’s weakness (she cries a lot, apparently) but also spies an opportunity to recruit a new member for her feminist revenge group, Conquest.

Conquest’s mission is simple: to take revenge on men who’ve shown they don’t understand that no means no. They do this via the inventive medium of cupcakes – with one very unique ingredient. (I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say I went in half hoping we might get cupcakes as part of the show, and left very glad that we didn’t.) Whether this approach actually achieves anything is unclear, however, and when Alice freaks out on her first cupcake delivery run, it all begins to unravel.

Written by Katie Caden and directed by Jess Daniels, this funny and thought-provoking debut from PearShaped Theatre is brought to life by Lucy Walker-Evans and Colette Eaton, in a fast-paced performance that never flags in energy (their breaking and entering exploits are particularly fun to watch). Along the way, they take on a variety of characters, among them Jo’s chain-smoking mum Angela – also a feminist, but of the old-school variety – and Alice’s nonplussed, boxers-clad revenge target, Dave. This multi-roling approach is acknowledged early on in one of many direct addresses to the audience, but a warning that we might get confused proves unfounded; the characterisation of each is distinct, and smoothly handled by both performers as they scurry from chair to chair, adopting different postures and accents as they go.

In the end, though, this is Alice and Jo’s story; a story of two very different women drawn together by their need for solutions to a problem so massive that it’s impossible to even fully get your head around, let alone know where to start in fixing it. (Which raises the question: why should it be the responsibility of women to fix it anyway?) What makes the two unlikely friends so appealing to watch, besides their constant amicable bickering, is that there’s far more to both of them than their initial stereotyping would suggest. And while all their plans seem to end in disaster, at least they’re doing something.

At a time when sexual consent is high on many agendas, Conquest is a timely and important piece of work, which exposes the complexity of the issue in a way that speaks to both male and female audiences. And if it makes you think twice the next time someone offers you a cupcake – well, that’s probably a small price to pay.

Conquest‘s run at Vault Festival 2018 is now over – but keep an eye on @pearshapedplays for future news.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉