Fringe 06 Review: Despatch
Despatch at BatsReviewed by Lyndon Hood
Written by Angie Farrow
Directed by Ryan Hartigan
1 - 11 February
8pm (1 hour 50 Minutes, including 10 minute interval)
Bats Theatre (Bookings 04 802 4175, email@example.com)
The Fringe officially open this Friday (10 February) but its first production has been running since the start of the month.
In Despatch foreign correspondent Hannah (Camille Keenan) recklessly chases through a war zone after what she believes is the big story - a journey that builds to a forced confrontation with the effect her work has both on her suffering subjects and on herself.
Despatch is the fourth production (and the second collaboration with playwright Angie Farrow) of Ryan Hartigan's Theatre Pataphysical. True to its name, the company here explores the abstract, imagistic and surreal, both physically and through impressively multigual verbal images. As the play continues the actors use this mode to show the facts that Hannah has tried to conceal from herself impinging more and more into her waking life.
Hartigan is able to get great commitment from his actors - as is shown most clearly in this abstracted chorus work.
Even the more naturalistic parts of the production, which tell most of the actual story, do not work as one might expect. The action serves to move us to the next image, the next part of the psychological puzzle, rather than making immediate sense in the traditional naturalistic terms of the characters' motivations or situation.
This odd fit of the characters into their world makes it hard to form emotional connections with the action. The repeated use of straight-to-audience descriptions (usually from Hannah, often redundant) also sets the audience at one remove.
The character of Hannah that is presented throughout the action - obsessed only with the story (and, in her down time, the next lay), ignoring all consequences and making a series of extremely dangerous decisions - is just not very likeable. She does not so much wrestle with her demons as ignore them - right until the climactic scene where an enigmatic, urbane killer (Simon Smith) turns the tables, putting the hardened reporter in the role of suffering victim.
There is a wealth of meaning to be found, but it is difficult to sympathise, or to care too deeply about Hannah's lack of inner completeness.
The non-naturalistic qualities are what makes this production memorable. Not only are many of the stage images and movements compelling and beautiful in themselves - especially if you're sitting far enough back to take it all in - but they beg the audience to develop their own meanings and so add depth to the story.