Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

On the Outskirts of a Large Event

Joe Houlders
The Bare Project
HOME, Manchester
21 February 2018 to 24 February 2018

Lucien (Nicola Blackwell) wakes up with a head wound that has given him amnesia. Luicen is alone except for Yani (Rose Gray), who is something of a fan, explaining that he is a celebrity. However, as the conversation progresses, Lucien starts to feel apprehensive. For some reason Yani is dressed only in pyjamas, and her questions are becoming more aggressive. Besides, there is a whacking great iceberg bearing down on the tropical island where the two people are conversing. Gradually Lucien begins to fear that the head wound may have been self-inflicted because he could not endure remembering about how an outside event made his community intolerant of outsiders and anyone who did not conform to the perceived norm. 

The script for On the Outskirts of a Large Event written by Joe Houlders, under the name Joe W, tells a cautionary tale, merging satire with parable, as an island race becomes divided and, unable to reconcile its differences, moves towards disaster. As divisions within the island grow stronger, the list of accusations made about each side becomes more and more ridiculous. It is, however, hardly subtle, and parallels with the current situation in the UK are easily drawn. The community is stricken with a condition that promotes either sleepwalking or insomnia, so it could be said that they are sleepwalking towards catastrophe.

Although the fantastical nature of the story seems suited for a gentle parable, On the Outskirts of a Large Event has elements of a horror story. Neither Nicola Blackwell nor Rose Gray are portraying actual people. Rather their performances – Blackwell becoming more and more tormented and disturbed, and Gray increasingly sinister – add to the mood of disquiet and apprehension that builds gradually through the play.   

Director Malaika Cunningham (no relation) skilfully develops an eerie sense of things being not quite right. In addition to the ominous performances, there is an otherworldly feeling to the staging. There is a sense that guilt about their past misdeeds is imprisoning the characters on the island, which serves as a kind of purgatory. Multi-coloured strips of translucent material surround Lucien and Yani, with the former forced to watch images from his past that are projected on to the screen-like material.

Although the story of On the Outskirts of a Large Event is thin, the tale builds well and the atmospheric staging certainly catches the growing sense of apprehension and guilt.

Reviewer: David Cunningham