Manchester Theatre Awards

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


Alexander Knott
BoxLess Physical Theatre
53Two, Manchester
08 May 2018 to 12 May 2018

Loop, written and co-directed by Alexander Knott, is an ambitious play that challenges ideas about what can be achieved in fringe theatre. In 1965 a nameless Woman (Lucy Annable), motivated only by a restless need to try something new, leaves London for Manchester. Her initial experiences are so deliciously satisfying that she seems to have fulfilled her needs, but years later this turns out not to have been the case. In 1985 her teenaged daughter Flo (Emily Costello) finds herself unexpectedly attracted to Dan (Aaron Price), and while her mother does not begrudge Flo a chance at happiness she hopes that things work out better than they did for her. It seems that this is not the case as, in the present day, Flo’s teenage son (James Demaine) reverses the journey made by his grandmother and leaves Manchester for London.

There is a bleak sense of fatalism about Loop; none of the characters achieve their ambitions or fulfil their hopes, and they end up settling for what they can get. This may be the first play to articulate the stunted hopes of Generation Austerity. Music is a common factor in each of the generations, but, although initially treated as a symbol of something new and exciting or a potential means of development in the future, it also ultimately disappoints. The approach taken by Alexander Knott is realistic and does show that, despite their squabbles, the characters have more in common than they can acknowledge – but it could, if the play were not staged in such an imaginative and energetic manner, be deeply depressing.

The quality of acting is high, with Lucy Annable’s slightly prim Woman a perfect example of someone anxious to sample the freedoms that suddenly became available in the 1960s, and fascinated by the strange new world in which she finds herself.  Emily Costello and Aaron Price achieve a smooth and totally convincing shift from teenagers, baffled to find themselves in love, to middle-aged parents, frustrated and worried about their child. James Demaine’s Young Man is innocent to the point of eccentricity – which shows that his parents may be correct in their concerns, as he is able to rattle off complex technical specifications but has so little common sense he gets lost in his own neighbourhood. 

The use of a movement director (Zoe Grain, who co-directs with Knott) seems a pretentious addition in fringe theatre, but actually makes all the difference in the world. The structure of Loop is a duologue, bookended by a pair of monologues. But Zoe Grain’s movement direction ensures that the play never descends into a dull, direct address to the audience. The full cast are always taking part, even when only one is speaking – silently illustrating scenes, acting as characters referred to in the monologue, or serving as living props. The approach adds to the sense of the characters being in constant motion, even if they are travelling in a circle and not making the progress they would hope.

Although Loop is potentially bleak, the imaginative approach and the high quality of the acting ensure that it is a play that can be enjoyed rather than endured, and that BoxLess Physical Theatre is a company that does not recognise limitations when it comes to staging their productions.  

Reviewer: David Cunningham