views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Middle Place
Camden People's Theatre
16th August 2014


Briony O'Callaghan in The Middle Place

Photography provided by Murder & Create

When it comes to theatre, there are generally two extremes which produce car-crash viewing. Too many creatives or not enough of them. Now, there always has to be an exception to prove the rule and sure enough, Murder & Create have devised The Middle Place together - there is no one director or playwright, just five performers - and the result is an incredibly smooth and poignant piece of physical storytelling. The planning is collaborative, as is the performance itself; as impossible as it sounds, it's almost as if the company share a hive mind.

The plot revolves around John (Gabriel Hirschhorn), as he tries to explore his identity. Although there are moments of narrative, a lot of the beauty of the piece is in the interludes with frenzied almost dance-like movement, against a backdrop of thudding music. We see John's heart laid open in these silent scenes, with the loud beats building a tension and claustrophobia. He feels trapped and panicked, and it's in these ensemble sequences that we can especially see the intensity of his feelings.

We see a lot of the everyday in this play. As three women (Louise-Clare Henry, Olivia Rose and Bronya Deutsch) stand around a counter discussing handcream, John watches from a distance as the scene is transformed into something far more exciting and energetic, culminating in an almost orgasmic finish, before we're jolted back into real life. John's desire to be a part of such a dull part of female life only highlights how desperate he is to explore that other side of his identity, embarrassed, confused and unsure how to do so.

Throughout the piece, John's actions are frequently mirrored by his other self (Briony O'Callaghan), with a visual clue of blue material linking the two performers - a shirt for Hirschhorn, a dress for O'Callaghan. Often when we glance at them we catch the same haunted, anxious expression. That's not to say this is purely serious piece, there are some great moments of humour brought by John's workmate (Deutsch) and nights in with his wife (Henry). The change in mood never feels jarring, despite the lack of director, they get pacing bang on.

Gabriel Hirschhorn in The Middle Place

Photography provided by Murder & Create

The entire production is very slick, with the five performers working together in a beautiful harmony. However, as faultless as it appears to be technically, some of the scenario is a little stereotypical - such making the main character a hairdresser - and as captivating as the action is, we don't feel a rush of emotion until the very end, when Henry suddenly hits us hard. Visually, it's close to perfection, but up until the very end, it doesn't move us as much as it should. We see John's anguish, but it's not until curtain up that we actually feel it too.

With The Middle Place the début work from Murder & Create, and the fact that the company isn't being led by any one individual, it's an astonishing achievement. Although we know that the protagonist isn't comfortable with his public persona, we don't know quite what label to stick on him, and it's refreshing to have that kind of ambiguity. Usually when we see sexuality explored in theatre, we only come across gay and straight as the two possible options. Life is more complicated than that, and the company acknowledge that.

It's a brave and challenging piece of theatre which shows off the company's Lecoq training and shared creative spirit. There's nothing middling about it, Murder & Create have hit some pretty impressive heights here. Not quite the first place, but very close to it.

The Middle Place opened on 14th August and runs until 17th August 2014 at Camden People's Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Warren Street (Northern, Victoria)

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