What does one do when confronted with a company devoted to high standards of professionalism, ethical treatment and payment of their creatives, and a willingness to stretch the achievement of fringe theatre above the norm? Go and see their debut show of course! End of Moving Walkway looks to be one of the most exciting companies on the block, led by driven and passionate artistic director Paul Lichtenstern they have produced a daring, ambitious version of Will Eno’s Oh The Humanity and Other Good Intentions. Lodged in the quirky Tabard Theatre, set against the airy backdrop of Turnham Green I waited with tense anticipation for what I hoped would be a challenging, ground-breaking piece of theatre.
Lichtenstern’s production is most definitely a thrilling and gripping theatrical experience, one which goes beyond their already admirable ambitions. Yet it lacks the audacity, the spark of magic, those little moments which change an audience forever. But there is something beautiful here. At its heart, Eno’s play is a study of ordinary people forced into impossible situations. Despite this seemingly fascinating premise, Eno fails to convince with his eight characters, ranging from the Spokesperson clearly out of her depth when dealing with a downed plane to a sports coach tasked with explaining the embarrassing performance of his team.
Eight characters are featured, some presented individually, others together; but all experiencing the same existentialist confusion when faced with an increasingly absurd and meaningless world. Originally five short independent plays, Lichtenstern has threaded these together with great aplomb to give some sense of journey yet is let down by the constant emotional intensity which demands too much of its audience. Whilst the production aims to give the writing space to breathe in between monologues, it lacks the time to allow the concepts to fester and settle. Perhaps it was just the monologue format that caused it to feel burdensome. Despite this, I certainly felt a tangible effect upon leaving the auditorium; drained in a good way. Eno’s play certainly forces you to think, but is just too heavy-handed in its attempt to be ‘thoughtful’.
Oh the Humanity clearly draws influence from Samuel Beckett, focusing on humanity (obviously), the individual and what is simple and truthful. Andy Edwards’ detailed, exquisite set design captures this perfectly. A white photographer’s booth provides the backdrop for each monologue; a small capsule of time where the audience peeks into each world before being drawn back into the silence of reality. At times this feels like a large therapy session, at others a glass window with a stranger staring right out. A white shell holding the hopes, dreams, ambitions and fears of all these far too ordinary people grasping at straws in an extraordinary world.
The large cast truly grapple with this text and produce strong, if occasionally inconsistent performances. Jonathan Kemp gives a standout performance as the struggling coach, filling the room with a deep, profound sorrow and confusion. He provides the most heart-breaking monologue of the evening, made even more so by his touching and subtle use of comedy. Keith Hill waits patiently for his scene at the close of the play, exuding gravitas which lends seriousness to his struggle to turn two chairs into a car, in turn making it more comic and poignant in equal measure.
Sadly this play is often very ordinary, but at times, it is simply extraordinary. End of Moving Walkway is an astoundingly good new fringe theatre company and have produced a debut production that exceeded expectation in every way. Their ambition is great, their values to be applauded and their show a cut above the rest.
Tabard Theatre, Runs Until 20th September
Production images © George Linfield