Directed by Valerie Lynch and Conor Nolan (and written by the former), Vocalost is saddled with the unenviable first week slot in the DU Players Freshers’ Festival calendar. This leaves cast and crew with a cruelly brief window in which to grapple with a tricky monologue-heavy script inspired by the notoriously exacting commédia dell’arte style.
Two mysterious entities, Black and White (competently played by Emily Humphreys and Andrew Halloran) wake up handcuffed together with no recollection of who or where they are. Enter the Gold Thief, a sinister Mighty Boosh-esque musical conductor intent on coaxing them aboard the “train of thought”. Thus begins a psychedelic whistle-stop tour around the globe as our enigmatic protagonists unravel a terrible secret buried in the realm of the unconscious. Along the way, they encounter shards of memory in the form of, among others, an Italian gondolier, a Mexican drug dealer and an Antarctic polar bear.
Vocalost aims to be a profound and unsettling examination of memory, music and madness, and given a little more time and polish, may well reach its mark. Humpreys and Halloran display some engaging chemistry in their all-too-brief interactions with one another. Unfortunately, the bulk of their time is occupied in mute observation of the seven psychic manifestations that parade before us on a kind of stage-left psychic catwalk. While the actors playing the culturally stereotyped apparitions put in some fine performances, the method by which they are consistently introduced grows tedious by the end of the hour. This is partly due to the restrictiveness of the aforementioned platform. Commedia dell’arte is renowned for its emphasis on elaborate physicality but, with only a few exceptions, this was largely absent from the performances, confined as they were to a narrow strip of playing space or, in the case of the Gold Thief, a tiny podium upstage. Adewusi does, however make the most of this perch to strike a menacing figure, crowing over proceedings like a 60s Batman villain. He crucially brings some much-needed kineticism to the show’s revelatory denouement, weaving through the onstage players to interact with audience members.
Projection should be no problem in the Players’ compact black box theatre, yet I found myself struggling to make out many of the lines. This proved particularly problematic for some of the masked figures and may not have been such an issue had there been a greater emphasis placed on physicality.
Despite what all of these criticisms, and star rating suggest, Vocalost is certainly a play with potential. I found myself at many points drawn into the intricate psychological jigsaw puzzle at its heart. As the week of performances progresses, it can only come closer to doing itself justice, and I expect that audiences on Friday will see a far sharper rendering of cues and blocking. While not a complete success, the play showcases the work of many talented actors, destined to progress, if they choose, in the world of student theatre.