“ Pleasance Courtyard / 60 The Pleasance / Edinburgh. 03 Aug 2007 - 27 Aug 2007. Vernon likes to watch people. Seeing a young woman drowning in a river, he leaps in to rescue her - but whose life is really being saved? Playwriting debut from award-winning TV producer. Directed by Owen Lewis. „
The first play by award-winning comedy producer Bill Dare (Spitting Image, Dead Ringers) was pitched to me in a queue by the writer himself as quite a sad story with a superb, soon-to-be-famous cast, liberally sprinkled with humour. Partly because I didnt have any plays on my list this year, partly because the afternoon time slot fit well into my schedule, and partly because I felt a bit sorry for Bill Dare having to do his own publicity one-to-one around the Pleasance courtyard but mainly because it was preview week and the tickets were all half price I took him up on his offer. It proved to be a worthwhile impulse buy.
Touch is a two-person play lasting just over an hour, the extra time perhaps coming in the couple of scene changes as the actors carry props in and out, and is based in a London flat and on a railway bridge. The action mostly takes place on a single night in the early hours of the morning. The shows tag-line, be careful whose life you save, hung over the opening scenes in quite an annoying way as I waited for the inevitable to happen and the story to really begin, but there are enough well crafted plot twists and insinuations as the play moves on that it all proved very rewarding and entertaining, even for someone who usually feels uncomfortable watching people act four feet away from him. Bill Dares writing is strong and his characters believable, and in fact the most significant problem I found was that the comedy, present as promised, sits quite uncomfortably alongside the more serious and emotional scenes and actually serves to weaken them. Its an unusual position for me to take, but I think it would be better if it was less funny. That said, there are several excellent and memorable moments of comedy that come along at exactly the right time so as not to be distracting.
The play is a duet between Emma, an absurdly chatty young woman who begins the story standing on the edge of a railway bridge contemplating suicide, and Vernon, a quaintly named, middle-aged neurotic whose life outside work is based through the lens of his telescope, which as a telescope enthusiast he does not simply call a telescope. Spending their night together in conversation inside Vernons flat, the two characters learn about the tragedies in each others lives, and generally do a fantastic job irritating and provoking each other. Emma is the more absurd character, at times a little too unbelievable in her persistent desire to change Vernons life but played excellently by newcomer Lucinda Millward, who is really put through her paces from jabbering to crying to wearing a flimsy will-it-or-wont-it towel for about a quarter of the show (though it seemed like longer at the time). Vernon is to some extent the straight, grumpy old man to play opposite this, but veteran actor Rupert Holliday Evans really brings him to life and makes him the more memorable and fascinating of the two, without even wearing a towel at all. Many moments call for subtle facial and bodily movements without dialogue, and Evans excels at these.
Keeping down costs is a vital concern in staging a Fringe play, and one that can seriously become a problem with factors such as a large cast and special effects eating up the budget. The two-person cast at least keeps Touch from losing out too much (though it would be nice for Bill Dare and the others involved if a larger audience would attend to help them out in this regard), but the unwise introduction of a third character who conducts his business entirely off-screen and between scenes only draws attention to the necessities of budget, as it would be hugely impractical and pointless to pay an actor for a walk-on every day of the festival. The set itself is also impressive and simplistic, the stage divided into Vernons lounge area and a generic floor that functions as both the flat and the railway bridge when lit by a single halogen moon, and I found myself thinking of the stage-hands that must have to dismantle and reassemble the set every afternoon to make way for other performers in the same venue, such as Josie Long. The scene changes are kept to the bare minimum and are carried out very matter-of-factly by the actors removing or adding props as the lights are dimmed, and although this was far from the most entertaining hour of my personal Fringe experience it was at least a refreshingly different one, primarily because I dont usually see plays of any sort.
Touch plays at the Pleasance Upstairs in the Pleasance Courtyard from 1st to 27th August (not 8th or 15th) at 3.15pm, lasting about seventy minutes. Prices are £9 to £10 (£8 to £9 concessions).
Next review: Norman Lovetts Slide Show.
The Pleasance Courtyard (located at 60 Pleasance) has over 300,000 visitors, fourteen venues, six bars, three cafes and every kind of entertainment under the sun. It's little wonder that for many people the Pleasance is the Fringe. 'The best of all possible worlds' The Observer.