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Review: Chance at Paradise in the Vault - Ed Fringe

Review by Carly Fisher

Chance is a new play by Yolan Noszkay that follows Aaron who is forced not just to navigate being a teenager, something that many would argue is hard enough, but to do this whilst dealing with his mum’s serious mental health concerns and his dad’s alcoholism. With so much happening in his home life, it’s no wonder that Aaron can’t concentrate on exams and so, as is so often the case in the schooling system (a problem shown here in a UK context but that is equally prevalent internationally too), rather than offering additional support to help the student, instead the student is punished.

We meet Aaron after he has just been excluded/suspended from mainstream school, yet again. In the UK, this exclusion leads to being sent to a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), an education offering that, in my research, seems to bill itself as an alternative school for students who are unable to participate in mainstream education, yet, in deeper research, seems to be only steps away from becoming a juvenile justice facility. One must assume that each facility is different and that this form of educational practice will work for some, and not for others, but in the context of the play, Noszkay has made it very clear that the Sunnyside PRU that Aaron is forced to attend is ‘anything but Sunny.’

This Edinburgh Fringe show, on for only a limited run in a cave like ‘vault’ is an offering from Sightline Productions whose mission is to provide a platform for underrepresented voices in Durham Student Theatre. For student theatre, the production is very strong and many in the ensemble could have great futures in this industry if they choose to pursue it.

Flo Booth as Eva, Aaron’s childhood best friend, is the unquestionable stand out and I believe that she has a big career to look forward to. Her performance is authentic, natural, deep and considered.

Ben Whittle takes on the lead, Aaron, and gives a very real performance of a teenage boy who has just simply had enough. Whittle’s performance too is natural and well executed.

Even with role doubling, the show calls for a cast of 6 which is a big undertaking for fringe. In an extended, non fringe version of this show, I think that many of the characters could use a lot more time - particularly the teacher (played by Beth Presswood) and Liam (played by Tom Corcoran). In a short play, there simply isn’t time to delve into so many characters but these two were on the brink of proper character realisation when their time on stage was ended. Corcoran and Presswood especially, give great performances despite their character limitations.

The script does well to show what Aaron is up against and why systems like this fail teens - a condescending social worker telling a teenage boy to publicly ask at school for ‘cool down time’ does not seem a likely fix, for example. It’s a strong script that I can see many school/university theatre groups keen to tackle. I hope, however, that Noszkay will continue to develop the script so that professional companies want to take it on too…it raises important points and asks critical questions about what we are expecting of young people today.

I am not a fan of blackouts between scenes and this show did not change that for me - I think that a stronger directorial hand was needed to really extract the most out of this piece. For example, I think that determining the parts of the story happening between each scene and blocking/choreographing that movement to connect one scene to another would have enhanced the flow and power of the show as a whole. Black outs quickly remove the audience from the reality of the piece and with the actors doing their utmost to give such layered and realistic performances, that seems a true shame.

A piece of theatre to keep an eye on to see what comes next for it and some actors that I’m glad that we have all been made aware of as they begin the next stages of their careers - I think that there is so much still to come from those in this Company!

Image Supplied


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