On the almost-unbelievably-sunny final Saturday of the Fringe, The Tribe reviewed another Mermaids show. The Hollywood Effect is a student-written offering, by incoming Mermaids President Rowan Wishart. Ideally suited to the venue of an intimate space in the Hilton Hotel on North Bridge, The Hollywood Effect is essentially three monologues which give the audience insight into three characters obsessed, in different ways, with the magic of movies. These are then interspersed with a subplot set on a train station.
All the performances were commendable, with the naivety of all three characters neatly captured by Hannah Gilchrist, Alice Robson and Henry Roberts. Roberts’ conflicted characterisation was especially neat, the persona of the awkward but optimistic young man nicely observed by both writer and actor, and his guileless routine on a chair in his underwear impersonating Tom Cruise in Risky Business could not help but bring a smile to the audience’s faces. Despite a small role, Sarah Chamberlain also deserves special mention as very believable as a neurotic housewife looking for something more in her life.
Despite these pleasing moments, the play as a whole was lacking something. All the scenes dragged a little, and while the characterisation was initially engaging in each case, each character’s dialogue and story arc were too predictable and low-key to keep an audience interested for almost an hour. It was a little difficult to put your finger on what the show was really about: the play felt disjointed.
The potential for a plot to connect the characters, promised by having them all appear together on a train station, was lost in the incongruity of their personal appearances, and any attempt to give the effect of snapshots into random people’s life was lost by the sheer comprehensiveness and one-notedness of the characters. Of one we learnt exactly what they ate for breakfast every day for a week; another gave us her entire romantic life and dreams in a brisk ten minutes. There was no suggestion that the audience would have to deduce or work hard to understand the motivations or histories of the characters in the play; nor, indeed, the play’s message. It was all laid out a little too clearly to be engaging for very long.
What kept me interested was the potential for the characters to come together, but this never came to fruition. The one story arc that involved dialogue between two characters was cut off bizarrely and abruptly before the play’s conclusion, leaving me feeling a little unfulfilled. Perhaps, of course, this was the intention – that in real life, unlike movies, there is no clear conclusion. But coupled with the clunky and unnecessary set changes that facilitated each change of character, it was difficult to remain focused with no driving force.
Nevertheless, the team has clearly worked hard to create a professional-looking piece of theatre that can entertain and had some genuinely touching moments and good laughs. However, a little more polish to both characterisation and writing could have made the whole thing feel all the tidier.