Gagarin Way is a thoroughly enjoyable play. The style of the production means that it can be enjoyed on many levels, by a variety of people. On one hand you have the intellectual humour, dealing with current social issues, such as, existentialism, anarchism, anthropology, politics, globalisation, and nihilism, while also dealing with more down to earth issues, such as, mental illness, masculinity, psychopathology, suicide and global warming. Dealing with so many issues, it is quite hard to decide on the dominant theme of the play.
However, as the title, with the same name as a Russian cosmonaut suggests, the recurring theme is that of communism, in today’s capitalistic society. It is also difficult to decide which class of play it is. The play could be described as a black comedy, a political play, or a philosophical drama, but none of these would do it total justice. As Gagarin Way is only one set, and one scene, the design of the set is critical to the smooth running of the play. The design shows a small corner of a large factory.
While watching it at the same level, in a traditional theatre, the set gave the illusion of the audience sitting in the empty warehouse space beside the set. It meant the viewers could become involved with the characters, as they felt part of it. The lighting was basic, with a window behind the actors changing colour, as the evening progressed. At the end of the play however, the lighting was cleverly used to leave the audience with the dramatic image of Eddie, smoking, and calm.
The lack of music also worked well, in aiding the audience believing they were watching something real, as opposed to a play.
The props were also minimal, but incredibly effective. The Chair was the main, movable prop, which was primarily centre stage when there was dialogue between the four main characters. The fact that Frank, who was tied up could be moved to any position on stage, depending on the stage direction was essential. At some points, when Eddie had to look directly at Frank, and Eddies monologue was crucial, Frank was moved with his back facing the audience, so that Eddie could be clearly seen by the entire audience. The door was the main focal point when the characters were needing to walk, and show movement. Read why change is constant and inevitable
It showed both nervousness, and impatience, when they kept walking to look through the window. Eddie was carrying two weapons, a gun and a knife. The audience weren’t aware he had a knife, until the end of the play, which kept this an element of surprise. The way Eddie discarded the knife after killing Tom was also cleverly done. After Eddie had stabbed Tom, the image of the knife, being thrown onto a crate, to me symbolised the end of Eddies psychotic episode. He just started talking in plain English how to discard the body, as if it was a sack of potatoes, instead of a Human Being.
It was as if, after he got rid of the weapon, it hadn’t really happened. I also felt that Gary’s coat was also significant. He took the coat off, just as he was going to interrogate Frank, and put it back on, just after Frank was dead. It was as if it was his comfort blanket, to hide from his situation. All four characters were different, and the casting was crucial in making the audience believe in the somewhat unrealistic plot. Three of the characters were perfect, however I felt Tom was not believable as a twenty two year old, just out of University.
He appeared too nervous at the beginning, when he had no reason to be. If he was that nervous, he could have left, and gone to his howf. It would have worked better, if the nervousness had appeared after he had found out about the kidnapping. At this point Tom, had to become even more nervous, and it became unnatural. It didn’t make a huge difference to the play, as Eddie was the more dominant character on stage, and he was totally believable as an intellectual thug. His mannerisms were always that of a man on the edge, even in the early scenes, when it was general chit chat, he still played the bully very well.
He didn’t overstate it though, so it gave him more to work with when he had to up the stakes, and become more, and more violent, and psychotic as the play went on. Gary’s entrance was critical, and worked very well. This was a man whose life had to date been mundane, and he had just kidnapped someone, so the entrance had to be that dramatic, and it was. Frank epitomised a mid fifties successful businessman, and played the part with the correct amount of fear, and at the end, with a believable ‘fuck it’ mannerism.
As a group of people, even with Toms somewhat over acting at times, they worked well together, and made the story appear believable. The performance started quite slow paced, with just two guys chatting about various topics, but as soon as Gary came in with Frank over his shoulder, the pace quickened, and very rarely slowed. At some times the pace seemed correct, as in life, when four people are talking, there is often no silent time. However when some of the dialogue was going on, it was too fast, and it was hard to keep up.
Although Eddie was played by someone new to the part, this was highlighted when Eddie was talking at points when the audience were still laughing, wasting the previous joke, and losing concentration on the upcoming line. Overall however the audience reaction worked well with the play. Having seen the play at two different venues, I can see how the local references would alter the reaction depending on where the play is being watched. The Leven conversation went down very well in Kirkcaldy, with this getting one the best laughs of the evening, however in Edinburgh, it didn’t go down just as well.
It is written in local Fife dialect, using local fife villages, and small towns, not known outside fife, so parts will get lost on many audiences. The Author Gregory Burke said ” I wanted to write about the rise and fall of the Soviet Union”. He “wanted to know how you got from this great Empire to a street sign in just a generation”. He portrayed these thoughts very cleverly. Each character had there own beliefs about that era, and through their background, bringing Joe Stalin, John Paul Sartre, John Genet, and Yuri Gagarin into conversation was believable, which for a bunch of Fifer’s, was amazingly effective.
The play was aided with dominant images at critical points of the play. The actors positioned themselves, and the props in a way that made everything visually dramatic. Eddie hit Tom with the gun, and blood sprayed from Tom, which was left , dripping from the Wall until the end of the play. This gave a constant reminder from then on, that Eddie was a man on the edge. To me, the play made perfect sense, and although somewhat outlandish at times, remained believable throughout.
With the dominant theme being the communistic background of the mining villages in Fife, it meant that with the capitalistic future that looked inevitable, the children, and grandchildren would try and recover some of the “good old times” of their predecessors. Gary’s text, and performance, showed a man trying to keep faith in something that was ingrained in him as a child. Through kidnapping, he showed he would be willing to do anything, to keep his belief, and although Eddie is the main character in the play, Gary’s constant one liners remind the audience why everyone is there.
This was done cleverly to make intellectual sense of the play. Gary showed the most amount of emotion, and change of emotion throughout. Frank, and Tom were there by chance, and went through a range of emotions obvious to there positions. Eddie never really changed on an emotional level, and even through the killings, remained relatively calm. However for Gary, this was a critical moment in his life. This was when everything he believed in would be shown to the world.
When things started to go wrong, you could see through the dialect, and emotion played by the actor, that this was a man on the edge. I became empathetic, and sympathetic to the character. In the final scenes, when Eddie began to stand, and appear normal, it was the image of Gary, a huge, and intimidating man, sitting crestfallen at the demise of his one defining moment in life, that moved me the most. Overall, this was a fantastic, and moving play. Using very little in the way of props, set, sound, and lighting, we were treated to an exhilarating, shocking, funny, and surprising feast of theatre.
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