July 13, 2009
TracesIf Baudrillard had ever been to Essex on a baking hot day in which a new, hermetically protected, shopping centre was being launched, Traces is the play he would have wanted to see written. This is a piece fundamentally about landscapes: Human and emotional landscapes meld as a young woman returns to the town from which fame took her away, while a cast of her intimates, acquaintances, and some perfect strangers, move themselves about the town in order for her to give their lives some meaning.
Fri 10th - Sat 11th July 2009
Fri 10th - Sat 11th July 2009
‘In a shopping centre it’s always sunny’, Leanne tells us in her opening monologue, a statement which is refuted by the action that follows, and which perhaps leaves the unsaid coda ‘even when it doesn’t need to be’ hanging in the air. Described by her most obsessive fan’s self-assured sister as a ‘z-list celebrity’, unable to sleep, and alienated from her life in London, she gets the bus to the town in which she grew up, arriving on its bonanza gala day when the new shopping centre will be opened with the attendant pizzzaz of a prize draw for a Porsche and inevitable balloon release. If Leanne can see her mum, and her best friend, she's sure all will be right.
She’s quite wrong however.
The cast who move about her are no less complex, and no less dysfunctional. The day Leanne chooses to return home, however, will lead many of them toward a greater happiness than they might dared to have imagine. A goth whose best friend’s exclamation-mark strewn postcard from Bridlington sends him into paroxysms of despair that not even teenage onanism can abate (tricky when you’ve got a black duvet cover, he complains, ‘why can’t my jizz be as black as my soul’), finds in the shopping centre ‘a sense of foreboding, and quite a big Starbucks’.
This is a modern Britain – England – which cannot escape from clone-town materialism and celebrity culture, a fact dramatized wonderfully by the central carrier-bag ballet to the theme tune of venerable, older than my mum even, Radio 4 favourite Round Britain Quiz. An agoraphobic man is brought out of himself with the aid of a Greggs steak bake, a mother changes her phone number to make her estranged daughter come home, a woman seeks the reassurance of a schoolgirl colleague about where to buy an outfit to meet the son she gave away many years ago, a young man is in love with a girl obsessed with celebrity magazines but who can’t stand a human touch.
The central tragedy of the play brings a greater clarity to all the play’s central movers, and the performances by the young cast from the National Youth Theatre are, with hardly an exception, crackingly, heartstoppingly, effective at convincing us of same. Leanne and Goth Lad excel, and I’m ashamed that even quite extensive Googling couldn’t reveal which of the ensemble cast played which role. I promise to ask someone next time this happens, for your benefit if not my own.