Monday, 27 August 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: End to End (Edinburgh Fringe)

Gramophones Theatre Company
Edinburgh Fringe - Bannermans
25 August 2012

'End to End' is one of the quirky gems waiting to be found amongst the mad mish-mash (technical term) of the Free Fringe: it was recommended to me by two EFR reviewers (their thoughts on the show can be found here – shameless plug Number I-Don’t-Know-What), and word of mouth recommendations had obviously been doing a great job for the Gramophone Theatre Company. The back room of Bannermans was full to the brim for this performance, their last at the Fringe.

The show presents Hannah Stone, Ria Ashcroft and Kristy Guest's adventure from one end of the country to the other, as they travelled from Land's End to John O'Groats in April 2012. For the most part getting by on the kindness of strangers, their trip has been adapted into a touching and charming piece of theatre about human connections and the way that chance encounters, however fleeting, can make a deep impression. It is heart-warming, funny and at times unexpectedly moving, and the cheery, sparky spirit of these three women makes it impossible not to be swept away by their tales. Each performer has a particular personality trait which they exploit to characterise the narration whilst still managing to stick close to their true selves, making the show honest: there is Hannah the tea-loving worrier, Ria the (almost) fearless adventurer, and Kristy the wide-eyed innocent. The bond and love between these friends is evident and is passed on to the audience through their direct communication with us, sharing in their thoughts, feelings and desires. The involvement of names and stories of the people they met lends a truth to the show, and the three performers allow the audience in to share their personal highs and lows without ever creating a feeling of discomfort. When Kristy speaks of her homesickness, I am sure it strikes a chord with many in the audience: by simply reading a text message from her mother to evoke her feelings, the moment is touching without becoming sickly sweet or too obviously pulling at the heartstrings with long, demonstrative speeches.

The set is cluttered artistically with rucksacks, maps, signposts and blackboards which are updated as the story continues, as the girls rack up miles, costs and increasingly wackier modes of transport, from trains to tractors, space hoppers to scooters, hitch-hiking to handgliders. The use of photographs and film is a nice touch to bring truth to the tales and to add interest to the show, which could have become a little flat with just a spoken narrative. Similarly, the stylised enacting of aspects of the journey is effective, particularly Kristy's representation of handgliding and Hannah's comic episode of a difficult cycle ride. The mimes and models are sometimes childlike, sometimes striking, such as the recreation of the kite-flying at the conclusion of the journey. At times the show can verge on being a little too cheesy: at one point, on being told to shut our eyes, the audience are wafted with cushions (I peeked…) to simulate the sensation of travelling in the open air, which felt rather gimmicky. I can see the effect they were aiming for, but for me this attempt to take us on the journey with them misses the mark slightly and is somewhat unnecessary.

However, this is a very minor point: overall I was captivated by the charm of the show and by the touching journey of the three women. The show ends with every audience member being given a postcard addressed to the women, and a seed. I’m still deciding what to do with mine: but I can’t help but be inspired by the Gramophones’ experiences and their simple but touching rendering of their great British adventure.

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