In the opening of – let’s call it Anchors for ease of reference – Ben Mortley addresses the audience in character as a Parisian watchmaker and gives a charming monologue about the significance of time and how it is malleable. How it can be manipulated by clumsy hands… and love. How that moment you first see someone can stretch on forever; how looking for that someone may seem like forever… but isn’t. In essence, how time slows down or speeds up depending on our memories and our emotions. It is thematic intent front and centre that sets the table for everything we are about to experience.
I would add another great manipulator of time. A well written and well performed piece of theatre such as this one can cut through time effortlessly. A poorly written and performed show can stretch time almost to infinity. It is a malleable beast indeed.
What follows is a seemingly disconnected set of stories with the three actors – Mortley, Jo Morris, and Renee Newman-Storen – playing multiple characters in multiple accents from French to Russian to a distinctive American dialect (Appalachian English). What I liked is the choice of settings to explore a much travelled theme. A Parisian street is perhaps the most obvious but a Russian submarine trapped in the paradigm of the Cold War; two mates hunting for rabbits in the Appalachian Mountains; a man who was married for 18 years going on his first date; and a female office worker essentially stalking her female boss; were all uniquely presented. That they all loosely tie together towards the end in echoes of dialogue and circumstance was a nice touch that was subtly delivered.
The other element that was impressive is the amount of humour here. In fact you could categorise this as a comedy which I did not expect. Importantly, it is good-natured humour which I very much appreciated with wonderful comic timing by all three actors. The highlights were Mortley and Morris’ work as the two Americans hunting rabbits, the highly idiosyncratic accent and phrasing adding to our enjoyment of their discomfit in the snow; and Mortley and Newman-Storen’s characters’ first date set up by a friend. This was deliciously weird and awkward with a lovely payoff.
All three actors were excellent in their roles and had good chemistry. Other highlights were Mortley’s heartfelt monologue as the character Brian explains why he had never been on a date before which flipped the earlier comedy on its head. Newman-Storen’s reaction both during the telling and her response were fine moments of acting. Morris made for an hilariously feisty rabbit killer but it was the longing of her office worker character that was writ large as she watched the object of her desire before finally summoning the courage to take matters further. Anchors is as much about supressed emotions as it is about love. The submarine strand provided a very interesting counterpoint as it became quite dark with the Captain taking drastic action to spite the burgeoning love of his two female crew members.
The solution to so many quick scene changes was a rotating piece of set that represented the watchmaker’s shop, the submarine, first date restaurant, apartment, and the vantage point in the snow. This meant that transitions were economically done and quite slick. This was added to by a wonderful soundscape that again was subtle but immediately placed us under the sea or on a busy French street etc.
I can see why Anchors did so well at last year’s Blue Room awards and I am glad I had a chance to see it after missing out on its 2014 run. It has an evocative and poetic script by Finegan Kruckemeyer that was well directed by Adam Mitchell and superbly handled by its cast. Highly recommended during its Fringe World run which goes until 31 January at the PICA Performance Space.