In the Trenches' Grey Mist: Clockwork

Alex Mullarky’s latest play operates in fairly intricate ways. Set in the trenches of the first World War, the action revolves around an English Captain, Will Silverdale, and his interactions with Manon, the ‘girl from the boulangerie’, who appears to possess quaint abilities and in whose company he finds solace from the bleak reality of war and his military responsibilities.One of the most significant leitmotifs of the play is, unsurprisingly, the passing of time. Mullarky weaves this theme aptly into both her narrative writing and her stage directions. In his opening monologue, Will mentions his frustrated wish to become a clockmaker, and time remains a concern for him until the very end ‘Once you’re over time doesn’t pass like it does in the trenches. It sprints and slows by turns.’, he states in his final (and solidly written) soliloquy.  Time is interestingly distorted in Mullarky’s play: a few specific passages put aside, one is usually left with no clear sense of what time it is- and yet the sound of clock continually provides a background to the action, inexorably ticking towards the end.The main strength of Mullarky’s writing lies in her extended prose. Every single one of her monologues is well-constructed, well-paced and partly relies on interesting imagery. A significant passage is a soliloquy spoken by Will, who has no real recollection of his home and ends on one of her usual contrasts : ‘[…] a past I’ve been told I had, when I feel this is all there’s ever been…’ Half narration, half streams of thoughts, such pieces provide a scenic time isolated from the frame of the action by focusing on the psyche of one single character at a time. This technique worked very well, although it would have been interesting to apply it to the whole of a small set of characters to piece out the puzzle further.Other aspects of the production, however, are not treated with equal skill: character development is sometimes carried out in too rash a way (Manon’s heavy reluctance to help in the trenches is replaced by an intense drive to be around the camp confusingly fast) and the staging wasn’t always quite on point. Entrances and exits tend to feel unnatural, and the use of space isn’t optimal: setting the main scenes and the monologues straight in front of the audience worked very well, using an intermediary layer to represent the French town and the boulangerie was efficient, but more could have been done with the third and main stage.The issue of volume and projection put aside, the cast is generally strong. As Will, Cooper Goldman portrays an unusually young, yet extremely weary Captain sternly and efficiently, giving his words the weight that they are due. His performance, however, could have been more intense and prompter in hinting at the deep-seated psychological issues of his character. Catarina Giammarresi gives a very good interpretation of her Manon through her subtle body language and trembling inflexions, although a greater diversity in tone and phrasing would have made her emotional peaks more striking. David Norris’ Lawrence and Dominic Kimberlin’s Miller provide the action with some charming comic  relief. Kimberlin’s character, however, has the complexity of a war poet (a pleasant twist, giving him an unexpected human weight), and the actor’s subtle facial expressions are exceptionally good. Calder Hudson as Bailey and Lewis Harding as Peat display a solid grasp of their character and a good amount of comfort on stage, acting as pillars of the main action, and praise is also due to Harding for gently revealing the humane side of the play’s most manichaean authority figure.Clockwork is an intriguing production, and a promising one when it comes to Mullarky’s future endeavours. Although not flawless, the play continually resorts to interesting literary and theatrical techniques- but I hold the belief that the writer’s greatest strength is her almost poetic prose, which sounded truest throughout the performance.Peter von ZahndImages by Helen Miller