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Clock
Etcetera Theatre
11th January 2014

★★★☆☆

Lucy Mepsted as Stacie

Photography supplied by Play in a Bag Productions

Some theatre companies specialise in Shakespeare, other only ever put on comedies. However Play in a Bag Productions seems to focus on darker scripts, exploring human nature when pushed to the edge.

Directly following on from their run of Magpies, they've brought the story of Clock to London. Without revealing too much, it's a one-hander about a woman trapped in an abusive relationship, whose attempt at getting out goes horribly wrong. Again, there's plenty of swearing in this one, but the late night slot is justified by the upsetting nature of the material, this is definitely one for adults only.

With the only piece of set design a solitary chair, all eyes are on actress Lucy Mepsted, whose costume has therefore been chosen carefully. Stacie's hair is scraped back into a ponytail, and she's dressed in sports wear, designed to be practical rather than alluring. The implication is that her boyfriend doesn't approve of her wearing anything too feminine, but there's no hiding that Stacie is an attractive woman, her figure is still visible.

Bare feet hint at Stacie's vulnerability, but there's a defiant battle cry in the heavy eye makeup. No woman who believes she's going to break down in tears wears that much mascara, and it gives us a tiny glimmer of hope that Stacie will survive her experiences and keep going.

From the moment Mepsted walks on stage, we know her one-woman story is not going to be a pleasant one, there's an aching vulnerability in the way she holds herself, a deadened light in her eyes even when her character tries to smile, remembering something vaguely positive. It's a difficult performance, particularly as Mepsted not only voices Stacie but all the other characters caught up in the story.

Billed as a black comedy, Clock is certainly black, but it's more harrowing than funny. Director Neil James works with Mepsted to bring out the bleakness of Stacie's situation and whilst this is certainly effective, in doing so, he sacrifices the laughs. By pronouncing the humour of the script a bit more, this would have created a powerful contrast - there's something to be said for making an audience giggle and then making them feel absolutely awful for laughing by taking them to a dark place immediately afterwards.

Ethereal music plays before the show starts, but then there's silence. Mepsted is a compelling enough actress not to require any sound design to help her manipulate the audience, and James wisely recognises that. It's understandable that he seeks to break up the dialogue - it is, after all an hour long - but the blackouts he puts in are abrupt, and seem oddly timed. They last only a few moments, but due to their artificiality, they feel overlong.

As for the other Mepsted, playwright Gary, in Magpies he seemed determined to fit in certain ideas and structures into his script, focussing on a technical vision to the detriment of the heart of the story. Here there's no attempt to be clever, rather he just writes, he lets Stacie's story unfold in a naturalistic way. There's more emotion to this piece and it's stronger for it. By writing in a whole host of negative characters, Mepsted challenges us to decide whether the bad choices Stacie makes are her fault, or if it's unfair to expect her to do anything else.

This certainly isn't a bag of laughs, but it's a challenging and intriguing exploration of one woman's living nightmare.

Clock ran from 11th to 12th January 2014 at the Etcetera Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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