Friday 20 July 2012

A Life In Monochrome - Blind Tiger Productions @ The Space

With A Life In Monochrome, Blind Tiger transport us back into 1930s crime-soaked Chicago.  In the midst of the Great Depression, the parallels with today's economic recession are palpable.

Arranged as if sat in a bar, the audience become part of the drama itself, with scenes performed all around.  This gives the drama a 3D feel and cinematic presentation that lends itself well to the noir genre.  Cigarette smoke curls through the air; soft lighting elongates shadows across the walls, in Orson Wells fashion; and the actor-musicians underscore the drama with sexy jazz.  The atmosphere created by the performers is suitably authentic, making us feel like we're actually there.

There are pacing issues with the narrative however.  More time is spent providing context and ambience than on storytelling, meaning that as a noir thriller A Life In Monochrome is a little less than thrilling.  Once the murder mystery takes hold half way through, the show is imbued with a renewed sense of purpose.  Yet, the creators have taken the brave decision of not revealing the killer, leaving the audience to ponder.  It's certainly thought-provoking, but the drama feels too loose to provide a sufficiently satisfying conclusion.  That said, the murder itself, accompanied by song and an agitated score, is inspired by detective literature from the time and is cleverly portrayed.

In A Life In Monochrome every character is a suspect.  However, they are based predominantly on cliche - the femme fatale, a provocative bar singer; the vampy journalist who uses her sexuality as a weapon; the whiskey-drinking detective who speaks solely in soliloquy.  The creators have stuck to the obvious character types, leaving little room for innovative interpretation.  On the other hand, these are integral tropes of noir.  The background research done when devising this piece is clear to see, the final result doing justice to the genre.

As is typical, it's the women who hold power over the men and this was reflected in the performances.  Stephanie Hampton particularly stood out as Karen Carter, the gutsy journalist.  Hers was an assured and solid portrayal, not afraid to use silence for effect.  Claire Sharpe also impressed as jazz singer Susan Lyons, her smouldering in the acting scenes matched by suitably husky renditions of 'Dream A Little Dream Of Me' amongst others.

All the more admirable is that the cast simultaneously underscored the drama, which was particularly difficult when spread around the performance space without a conductor.  The music was most effective when used diegetically as background music for the bar scenes, Joshua Fontana's improvised jazz guitar especially.  A greater emphasis on thematic melodies would provide an appropriate way of enhancing the plot, making the music an integral element of the drama.  Equally, the use of silence in certain scenes was striking.

With its suitably authentic atmosphere and cinematic presentation, A Life In Monochrome was a chilling piece of theatre from a young, fresh theatre company. With a tweaked narrative, the story would thrill just as much as the production.


Watch: A Life In Monochrome is performed at The Space Arts Centre until 28th July.