One of the joys of watching fringe theatre is that it often tackles controversial issues in a way that larger institutions maybe more afraid of. In director Chris Loveless’ Gifted, however, this is not the case; every possible issue from domestic violence to homosexuality is crammed into seventy minutes. It is a classic case of how less is more.
The play tells the story of Fran who is an A Level student with hopes of going to Cambridge. She strikes up an unlikely relationship with Norman, an elderly homeless man, and tells him “you’re the first person to tell me the truth about things.” As her father is an arms dealer and Norman is a Falklands war veteran she gradually hates her father and falls in love with Norman.
If writer Peter Billingham had decided to simply handle how different generations viewed war, especially before a General Election, he would have succeeded at delivering a succinct message. Instead school bullying, mental illness, and alcohol abuse are added in weighing down the story.
A finer point comes when Fran and her school friend Mocha revise William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. “Plays take you somewhere, they release you” remarks Fran, who in turn writes her own poetry. Fran’s speech echoes Juliet’s, which is effective because they both are young, planning to run away, and hate their parents. So when Fran says “how can I respect what I despise”, it is akin to when Juliet says “my only love sprung from my only hate.”
An outstanding performance comes from Matthew Ward as Norman, who, on an evening with only five audience members, was able to fill the theatre with singing as a drunk hobo as well as emotion as a lonely old man. Touching performances lost on a muddled play.
Runs till 16 May.
To see or not to see: * *