They Will Be Red is a lesson in story-telling. Self-conscious in its narrative style, writer-director, Milja Fenger breaks the compositional rule, “Show, Don’t Tell” by introducing an omniscient narrator, who holds up a critical and exacting lens to the characters of this bittersweet and thoughtful piece. The audience is taken by the hand by Nick Williams, the narrator and role-hopping pander, but there are few opportunities to break from his passionate grip, making the experience not completely unlike having the corresponding Cliff Notes companion open during the performance.
We meet Anna (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) at age nine, briefly follow her through her teens and twenties, and stay a longer spell with her quietly determined adult self – now an ecologist who buries her head in the foliage of dying ash trees to hide from her personal problems.
The start of the play aims at cultivating a playful atmosphere, as Richardson-Sellers dips her hands in pools of leaves and Williams teases the musician at the side of the stage, tentatively tapping the snare. It initially comes across as a little forced, but as the play continues, these actions become less self-conscious and more sophisticated in their usage, until they become cleverly ingrained habits and ticks. The same should be said of the writing, which starts with a slightly irritating demonstrative flourish, before gently settling into a more engaging and personal portrayal of a young woman ‘finding herself.’ (Thankfully, the narration is aware of the tropes associated with the coming-of-age tale, and it lovingly satirises the typical reception of a ‘gap year’ trip to India.)
With an excellent ear for dialogue, the snapshots that we are shown are realistic, inventive, and engaging. Williams shifts seamlessly between a host of distinct and identifiable characters. However, both actor and playwright avoid farce and caricature, whilst still presenting personalities and situations that feel unique to the story being told. In playing Mark (Anna’s somewhat slimy boss), Williams is slightly farcical, but not totally unbelievable as a character – especially as so many of the people that we encounter (and would happily observe for 90 minutes) often do defy belief.
Richardson-Sellers is precise and careful in the eventual release of her character’s emotional turmoil. Anna is no Mary-Sue, and, accordingly, Richardson-Sellers creates a protagonist that is patterned with a residue of understanding and misunderstanding. In this well-paced two-hander, Richardson-Sellers and Williams are a dream team. Between themselves, they bring out the lyrical harmonies of day-to-day dialogue. Combined with one-man-band in the corner of the stage, the musicality of production continually arrests and delights the ear.
The premise of They Will Be Red could very easily become trite and predictable, but Fenger’s rendering of human interaction is clever and exacting. The framing device of the narrator gave a number of insightful twists to the story; however, the book-ending monologues are one of the play’s more contrived aspects, and I expect that they will get a Marmite reception. Fundamentally, it is a play that is expertly constructed and well-acted, showing great promise in the cast and crew alike.
**** (4 Stars)
They Will Be Red will continue its run in the Burton Taylor Studio every night at 7:30pm up to and including Saturday the 2nd.