Front Room Productions
A Bedroom, Manchester
11 March 2018
There have been shows in the past which have put me to sleep but I cannot recall any where I’ve been asked to bring along a pair of carpet slippers. Front Room Productions, known for using site-specific venues, live up to their name by staging Hurry Up, Jess, their latest show, in an actual bedroom. But site–specific shows are prone to environmental issues, and tonight half the audience are unable to attend as transport through Piccadilly Railway Station has been disrupted by protestors. Front Room, being troupers, decide the show must go on.
Teenager Liv (Front Room’s artistic director Olivia Race, who also wrote the show) is getting glammed up ready to go to a party but is dependent on a lift from her best friend, Jess. As she waits for the always tardy Jess to arrive, Liv shares her opinions on the importance of making an effort to dress for parties and asks the audience to help decide the type of clothes she should wear. But Jess is running very late, and Liv seems to be getting an unusually high number of messages from friends and family concerned about her wellbeing.
As a director, Race achieves a great deal with minimal resources. A laptop, left open in plain view, provides background music and allows the audience a glimpse of Liv and her friend in photographs drawn from their life-long relationship. Site-specific events can be hit and miss, but Race manages more of the former than the latter. The thorny issue of how a character can deal with having strangers in her bedroom is tackled head-on by making us part of Liv’s inner monologue. We become part of the show, holding up a sheet to enable Liv to make a suitably dramatic entrance and sampling the revolting drink she has mixed to bring life to the party.
Race manages to avoid the most common problem of site-specific events, which often just run out of steam, and goes to the trouble of devising a satisfying conclusion to the play - although one cannot help but feel a simple blackout would have been a clear way of signalling the end rather than using an announcement. Race takes a sympathetic approach to the role of Liv, making her a lively if not especially bright character who is impressed if a boyfriend goes to the trouble of noting the awards won by a film. While it is obvious that Liv has been overshadowed by her absent friend, she displays no resentment, although it is likely that her outlook may be shaped by unnecessary guilt.
The story of Hurry Up, Jess is pretty much told in the advance publicity, so the play becomes a character study, and a very moving one at that. Hurry Up, Jess signals a change in approach for Front Room Productions, who, thus far, have concentrated on adaptations rather than original works, and shows the benefits of stepping outside their comfort zone.
Reviewer: David Cunningham