Iona Ramsay reviews Gagarin Way, a politically charged yet thoroughly amusing production put on as part of the On the Rocks festival.
Gagarin Way by Gregory Burke, set close to home in Fife, depicts a kidnapping and anarchic plot gone wrong. In the style of any Scottish comedy, the play is as funny as it is dark; forcing the audience to laugh at the vulgar and the offensive. The student production, directed by Tom Williams, saw this fragile balance through effortlessly – with a cast of four intelligent and committed actors. Harry Johnson, Catherine Potter, Carla van der Sluijs and Ellen White played four men at various points in their life, all mutually worn down by the system of which they form a part.
The play opened with Tom and Eddie, a struggling graduate and a cynical worker, waiting to steal an ambiguous ‘computer chip’. The chemistry between the two actors was seamless, managing to evoke laughter from philosophical jargon and awkward small talk. Eddie, played by Catherine Potter, maintained the highest status in the room throughout the full show – never letting the comedy of the character take away from his madness or danger. The thick Fife accent was a hard one to sustain, and she did so without faltering. Her masculinity was unmistakable, in both her physicality and vocal delivery. Overall, Eddie was fantastically portrayed, in all his insanity. Carla van der Sluijs, playing Tom, had an incredibly difficult role in her character’s lack of moral certainty. Tom was on-the-fence throughout the play, and this inner struggle was played with beautiful subtlety, while keeping the character comedic. This opening scene was long, complex, and expertly executed; grabbing the audience from the word go.
Although later to arrive on stage, neither Harry Johnson nor Ellen White were to be missed in this production. Playing the hard-not-to-sympathise-with character of Gary, Harry Johnson was incredibly likeable, making the audience question their alliances. His frustration with the injustice of Capitalism was what fuelled his actions, in contrast with his inherently violent partner in crime, Eddie. Gary was played very intelligently, sparing his moments of rage, and shocking the audience with them each time. Again, the comedy was played perfectly, and Gary’s absent-minded chatter about flamingo land and Prague gave him a lighter edge. Ellen White playing Frank (the boss and hostage) was impressively mature in her delivery. Playing a fifty-six year old man, she portrayed Frank with a defeated and cynical energy which caused him to overrule Eddie’s status and power. This stationary, unaffected attitude was extremely interesting to watch; giving neither the audience nor the other characters what they expect.
All four actors were crucial in keeping the ball rolling, and sustaining the pace of the somewhat wordy play. This was not an easy task, but the final product was a slick, unrelenting piece; gripping the audience from the start, and refusing to let them go.